When describing something as being based on a major element, one can use the "-based" ending. How does it work when the major element is an expression formed by two words, such as body tracking?

Is it ok to write

... body tracking-based interaction ...

Or would it look better reversed?

... interaction based on body tracking ...

  • 2
    You have four options: The three that you provide and one that I usually (but not always) use in biomedical articles: body-tracking-based interaction. The "interaction based on body tracking" option is what I prefer because it reads more clearly, easily, and smoothly to me, but it's strictly a personal preference, a style choice. Grammar and punctuation are not a problem with any of the options, nor is meaning. Choose the style most often found in journal articles written by people in your field.
    – user21497
    Feb 1, 2013 at 14:44
  • @Bill: Wikipedia sanctions this usage (so it must be OK!): 'Compound modifiers can extend to three or more words, as in ice-cream-flavored candy'. Yes, the first two elements are more closely bound (contrast devil-may-care, say), but we only have one type of hyphen, and clarity is paramount. Contrast three hundred year-old trees with three hundred-year-old trees and three-hundred-year-old trees, and don't worry about how weird styles look as a first concern. Feb 1, 2013 at 14:55
  • @EdwinAshworth though I see that same section agrees with my en dash suggestion in the last paragraph. (Though definitely something I'd call a suggestion, rather than a rule).
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 1, 2013 at 15:10
  • Yes - it's a worthwhile suggestion. Somebody has already mentioned elsewhere, though, that with different fonts and different ease of access to the various typographical devices, and especially with different handwriting styles, differentiation becomes problematic. There's also the problem of terminology - formally an en dash, but syntactically a type 2 hyphen. Feb 2, 2013 at 11:53

3 Answers 3


If you're a stickler for typographical distinctions (or you have a style guide that is) then you might want to follow the policy that an en dash (–) is used rather than a hyphen, when hyphenating a compound of which one or more components are already compounds. Hence "body tracking–based" or "body-tracking–based". In the latter this policy makes a bigger difference than in the former, with a visually larger line between tracking and based than between body and tracking.

That said, many people happily ignore this use of the en dash, and probably don't suffer much from doing so. Some that do use it, don't if there isn't a hyphen in the original compound, and would happily use your original "body tracking-based".

In terms of "acceptability" then, it's fine. It may be that being technically acceptable isn't enough, and you find that it reads awkwardly for you. This is a more important factor to whether you rewrite or not than any opinion from anyone here on acceptability of the form; correct doesn't necessarily mean good.

  • One of the rules I follow about hyphens versus en-dashes and em-dashes is that it's the publisher's job to do that kind of typographical copy-editing, not my job or the author's job. I use hyphens only and let the publisher's copy editors work for their pay. Of course, if it's for a self-published work, like a thesis or a blog, then it's the author's or the author's editor's job. Case by case. And your point about "acceptability" isn't always enough is right on: Clarity is more important, as are the prescribed style manual's rules & regulations.
    – user21497
    Feb 1, 2013 at 15:19
  • @BillFranke on the one hand, more and more of us are our own publishers in more situations. On the other, many of them are cases like here where a greater degree of haste is seemly. Were I not talking about this very rule, I'd follow it on my linux set-up where the keyboard has a handy keystroke for en hypens, and not on my windows set-up, where it doesn't. Do agree it's the publisher's job; I do use dashes "correctly" (that is, according to my own style preferences) in writing for publication, but I'd never stet a coherent change to it.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 1, 2013 at 15:28

As @BillFranke mentioned in his comment - from a readability standpoint and to answer your question, this reads more smoothly:

"interaction based on body tracking"

@JonHanna's answer correctly addresses the style issue with hyphens vs. en-dashes but strictly applying my own criteria whether something reads smoothly or stops my eye because of complex or awkward style, your second option gets my vote.

  • It gets my vote on the same grounds too. That said, if I had to read the phrase 50 times because it was a key concept in the document, I might change my mind in that context.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 1, 2013 at 16:15
  • @JonHanna - you're right about that! That's when creativity kicks in! :-) Feb 1, 2013 at 16:18
  • Or sometimes the restraint of it. If you really do need to mention something 50 times in 4 pages, it may be best to be plain and simple; something else can do the sparkling. Meanwhile, when you've worked out what a three-word compound means once you'll get it in one for the rest of the text.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 1, 2013 at 16:32

body tracking based interaction

In the OP's context, if the expression has been referred to throughout as body-tracking, that is, with a hyphen, then it would be body-tracking based interaction.

On the other hand, if the document consistently refers to the concept as body tracking without a hyphen, then it would naturally be body tracking based interaction.

In no case can it be body tracking-based interaction, which can imply an entirely different idea.

It is not always necessary, especially now and in future, to hyphenate -based.

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