# ‘Sought’ or ‘sought-after’?

In the context of a computation, I would like to refer to “the sought value”. I think this is the most precise and terse formulation. However, I have noticed that people often use “sought-after” rather than “sought” in some similar situations. I could certainly say “the sought-after value”, but it’s a bit clumsier, especially if it isn’t necessary. Dictionary entries for ‘seek’ don’t seem to indicate that a preposition should be necessary.

Of course, “the value sought” or “the value sought after” (again, which is best?) could do the trick, and perhaps that’s better English in general, but in my mathematical context, I think the precise meaning gets through more clearly when I use ‘sought’ in an adjective-like manner.

So, is my preferred formulation “the sought value” kosher, or should I modify it with a preposition or otherwise?

Update: I find that the comment by Robusto is a perfectly sufficient answer (but I can't mark it as accepted since it's posted as a comment and not an answer).

• You're overthinking this. Certainly you don't want to use "sought-after" because that carries a different connotation, one of subjective desirability. If you can say "the value sought" you can certainly say "the sought value" and no one will blink an eye. Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 13:21
• I presume you mean "the value that you are searching for". If so, "search value" seems perfectly acceptable. Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 15:38
• Robusto's comment was very eye-opening. I would have marked it as accepted if it was given as an answer and not a comment. Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 17:03
• TrevorD: thanks, but what I'm talking about is not quite a search value. It's computed in a more elaborate sense. Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 17:05

"The sought value" is technically correct and would be understood. You can say something like:

They sought the best value.

But IMHO it sounds stilted and old-fashioned. I would use a different verb if you're simply talking about seeking something.

"Sought-after" is idiomatic usage for something that is desired. Dictionary.com:

Idioms 9. be sought after, to be desired or in demand: Graduates in the physical sciences are most sought after by employers these days.

If you're talking about a desired value, then that would be the right usage. I'm not sure what you're after from the context of your question.

• I believe the poster's context was mathematical. When I write math prose, I often make use of desired.
– user22138
Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 17:55
• Thanks. But in mathematical contexts stilted and old-fashioned is ok, as long as it contributes to precision. I'm keeping it, based on Robusto's comment above. "Desired" is often useful, but not when there is one and only one correct value. Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 17:09

"Sought-after" is a ridiculously recently popularized twist on "sought" and has completely replaced "sought" in common usage. I see "highly sought-after" everywhere, knowing "highly sought" would suffice. Sought-after seems to be different from sought; but why would anything be sought if it were not desirable?

Drop sought-after. It's redundant. Nothing is sought which is not sought-after.

• "sought-after" is an intensive form. If you object to intensives on the grounds that they mean the same as non-intensive forms, you'll lose a lot of the expressivity of language. The rest of this answer is just a rant. Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 10:57
• @StuartF I removed the rant.
– Laurel
Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 14:55

Sought is as correct as sought after. Also, sought after is not a hyphenated phrase unless you’re referring to it as an action type like you might write about the whole “you’re-thinking-about-this-too-much” stage.

Someone can be highly sought and the implication is still delivered that they are being “sought after”.

It’s like saying someone is being chased or chased after. The verb alone indicates that there is a separate party inflicting the subject’s experience. So why waste the space (unless you’re typing for word count) in your telling and the audience’s hearing.