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There are adjective phrases constisting of a qualified past participle that usually precede the noun, like 'a much loved song'. Now I encountered this expression: 'the still to be surpassed view'. Is this correct English, or should the participle phrase follow the noun? And how about present participle phrases with 'still', e.g. 'still grieving', can they precede a noun?

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    I see this is a still-to-be-answered question. I'll leave a real answer to someone else since my still-coding coworkers could really use my help. – Jim Aug 31 '13 at 0:29
  • I would take the time, but I am a still grieving widower, and have been distracted by just breaking news. – bib Aug 31 '13 at 0:34
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I would hyphenate any compound adjective, though. "The yet-to-be-surpassed view." Likewise, "I couldn't bear to visit his still-grieving widow." Once example I remember from school was "He has that who-do-you-think-you-are-my-way-is-as-good-as-your-way attitude." Supposedly, that (or something close to it) actually appeared in print at one point.

Anyway, it's perfectly correct English, if a little bit fancy sounding.

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    If the hyphens threaten to get to out of hand, I have also seen folks skip the hyphens and wrap scare-quotes around the whole mess instead: He has that “who do you think you are my way is as good as your way” attitude. I find that less annoying than all the hyphens when it gets so long as all that. – tchrist Aug 31 '13 at 2:07
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    Thank you for your useful comments. However, I have a still-to-be-satisfied curiosity as to the type of past participle phrases that can precede the noun. It seems they can have some time designators with them (yet, still, often), but not others (yesterday, last month, some years ago). In the latter case ('the decision taken last month') the modifying phrase should always follow the noun, I guess. – Josje Aug 31 '13 at 11:47
  • Interesting. I'm finding I don't "license" any expressions with too-specific adverbs of time. So I like "the previously-taken decision" but I reject "the yesterday-taken decision." I'm even okay with the "soon-to-be-taken decision" and the "never-taken decision" but not the "April-2010-taken decision." No clue why that should be though. – Greg Hullender Aug 31 '13 at 17:14
  • I think you must be right that it is about specificness. Maybe the clue is that a too specific adverb draws attention to itself, giving a more sentence-like character to the clause, which makes it difficult to process for the reader or listener when the noun still has to follow. Words like 'still', 'previously' with preceding article are easier to recognise as introducing a modifier to the noun. For me as a non-native speaker though, the 'still to be surpassed' phrase seemed rather complicated at first. – Josje Aug 31 '13 at 20:08

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