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When to use a hyphen in writing a compound word

Which is correct?

  1. front-end engineering
  2. frontend engineering
  3. front end engineering

I looked over http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/hyphens.asp, referenced in this answer, and I'm still not sure which to use.

Rule 1 under Hyphens Between Words says:

To check whether a compound noun is two words, one word, or hyphenated, you may need to look it up in the dictionary. If you can't find the word in the dictionary, treat the noun as separate words.

"Frontend" is not found at reference.com. "Front-end" and "front end" are both found, which "front end" as two words representing the software term, so I think this must be right. However...

Rule 1 under Hyphens With Prefixes says:

The current trend is to do away with unnecessary hyphens. Therefore, attach most prefixes and suffixes onto root words without a hyphen.

I think that "frontend" qualifies under this rule. Compare that with "backend" and it sounds to me that "front" and "back" are prefixes to "end".

Also, the most common usage I've noticed is "frontend" as a single word when talking about software. Common usage has to count for something, right?

What's considered the final say here?

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If your concern is with job titles, it's interesting to look at the LinkedIn job title autocomplete suggestions. If you type "Frontend", it suggests "Frontend Developer" or "Frontend Engineer", but it doesn't give anything for "Front-end", and if you try "Front End" it only suggests "Front End Supervisor". I'm guessing this is powered by the most common entries, which suggests that in the tech industry "Frontend" is most commonly used. –  jackocnr Jan 9 at 3:12
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4 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

For the compound noun front + end it is front end:

Noun

front end (plural front ends)

  1. (computing) that part of a hardware or software system that is closest to the user.

frontend and front-end are alternative forms.

The compound noun front + end + engineering may be another matter.

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Agreed. After more searching, "front end" seems to be the most common form when used as a noun. I found it in dictionaries like Webster and Dictionary.com (and Wiktionary, as you pointed out). However, I think that Ascendant may be right that we might see a change in the foreseeable future as confused people like me mix it up as we go along ;) –  Mike M. Lin Jul 22 '11 at 2:49
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"Frontend" and "backend" in this situation are technical terms, and as such I don't think they conform strictly to traditional ways of creating new words.

I'd put it in a similar category as putting the letter "e" in front of things: For example, should we call it e-mail and e-commerce or email and ecommerce? Most of us have settled on "email" but we split the difference on "e-commerce," but in any case, traditional language authority didn't move fast enough to lead this debate, but only explained or justified it after the fact.

So it goes with "frontend" and "backend", whichever one wins out may become enshrined by dictionaries (like "googling" yourself) or there may not be a winner in the forseeable future (such as in the "ecommerce" case)

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I like the spelling convention set in GCC Coding Convention:

  • "front end" (noun)
  • "front-end" (adjective)
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"front end" (noun) like in; I work in the front end. "front-end" (adjective) like in; I work as a front-end developer. –  numediaweb Oct 22 '13 at 14:19
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Your research under "Hyphens with Prefixes" may not apply to this case. While "front" is being added as a prefix, the rule is referring to prefixes like non-, un- and in-. So while words like nonaggression and unable do not have hyphens, frontend doesn't seem like a valid compound word.

Since "front" isn't a prefix in the same sense as those listed above, I believe you should use the rule of "Hyphens Between Words". Either "front end" or "front-end" would be valid under this rule.

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