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For example, would there be a hyphen in the following sentence: "What exasperated him most was the well-known"? Or would it be: "What exasperated him most was the well known"? I know there may better/different ways to express the same sentiment ... But I'm interested in this particular usage. Does the hyphen belong there?

Thanks!

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Generally, you hyphenate combinations such as well known when they immediately precede a noun that they are modifying.

She is a well-known criminal.

Her criminal prowess is well known.

The difference in those two sentence is what well is modifying. If it's modifying a noun, then you can hyphenate them to indicate that those two words are functioning similarly to an adjective and are to be taken as a whole. On the other hand, if well is modifying the verb known, then it should be two separate words.

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  • I understand how it works in those examples, but what about: "What exasperated him most was the well-known." I know there may better/different ways to express the same sentiment... But I'm interested in this particular usage. Or would it be: "What exasperated him most was the well known."
    – jonathan
    Sep 26 '13 at 19:18
  • @jonathan If I were writing that sentence, I'd probably re-word it. It's slighty awkword. But if you keep it as is, I'd probably hyphenate it. You're using well-known as a noun, so you want it taken as a whole. A general rule of thumb would be that they are separate words when known is used as a verb. To be honest, it's more of a sin to hyphenate it when it shouldn't be hyphenated then it is the other way around. So when in doubt, either hyphenate it or rephrase it. Sep 26 '13 at 19:28

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