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Do I write "non-power of two" or "non-power-of-two", where I assume "power of two" is a non-hyphenated compound word?

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I believe this is a case where understandibility should triumph over grammatical correctness. The rules of grammar probably indicate the first, but to my mind that makes it unclear whether the 'non' modifies the entire phrase or merely the first word. The second form is clearer, and so preferred.

To change the example: if you negate "He had a big city style" to be "He had a non-big city style" implies that he had a style of a city, but not a big one. "He had a non-big-city style" would mean that he had a style that was not of a big city.

(Personally I would recommend not using 'non' in either of these cases)

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  • So what is your non-non recommendation? 'Grammatical correctness' is of course ill-defined. See any 2 style guides and/or grammars. And some would argue that 'this is about punctuation, not grammar'. But I'm with you about clarity being imperative. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 12 '13 at 21:48
  • Make "the number has a non-power-of-two value" into 'the number has a value that isn't a power of two". – DJClayworth Nov 12 '13 at 21:52
  • That's obviously the answer – unless you want to use it as a table heading ... – Edwin Ashworth Nov 13 '13 at 0:28

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