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Should "social media" be spelled with a hyphen in the phrase "social media post"?

To me, the hyphen looks wrong, but I would like to be able to provide some grammatical rationale to explain why.

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  • the more relevant question is what you imagine a "social media post" to be? do you mean post on social media?
    – virmaior
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 3:26
  • No hyphen. Not after everyone has picked up the phrase social media.
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 6:48

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When a modifier is composed of two or more words, and it isn't of the pattern [adverb] [adjective], then it is most common to hyphenate it. If it is of the pattern [adverb] [adjective] then it may still be hyphenated if adverb in question also has an adjective sense; to distinguish e.g. "more-important points" meaning those points that are more important than others from "more important points" meaning additional points, that are important.*

Two other exceptions are [noun] [noun] if confusion is particularly unlikely, and if either or both of the parts of the compound are a proper noun or a proper adjective.

So, considering all those rules; in this case you have a modifier of the form [adjective] [noun]. And since that isn't [adverb] [adjective], isn't [noun] [noun], and uses no proper adjectives or proper nouns, then the most normal thing to do would be to hyphenate it.

Now, some people will not hyphenate if the pairing is extremely common. Just how common the pair need be is subjective. I would say it's probably just about common enough that "social media post" isn't technically incorrect, but not quite so common that it is to be recommended over the more normal "social-media post".

So if your debate had money riding on it, call off the bet as both being technically allowable, but write it "social-media post" when you actually use the phrase.

*You can also find cases of [adverb] [adjective] being hyphenated when the adverb ends in ly, but this would be rather old-fashioned today. It's more likely to be found in older books than anything current.

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  • Excellent answer! I like how you walk through the nuances and exceptions. Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 3:22
  • social-media looks so strange, people would start wondering what this new-fangled thing is, and in the process, forget to connect with the familiar social media.
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 6:53
  • @Kris, that's the reasoning behind the "don't hyphenate extremely common compounds", though even with much more familiar compounds while e.g. "high school student" would be more common, "high-school student" is certainly found, and I'd imagine normally understood.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 9:51
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The hyphen in social-media post is a clarifying mark of punctuation, that removes potential ambiguity. Without the hyphen, the reader is forced to rely upon their specific domain knowledge to infer the correct attachment of words.

Specifically, are you describing a post to social media, or a media post that is social.


To provide an alternate example, consider a similar example such as free-range chicken. Without the hyphen, it is ambiguous as to if I am discussing a chicken that is somehow 'free range,' or if I am, instead, discussing a 'range chicken' with a price of zero dollars.

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  • -1 That's what happens when we focus on grammar over pragmatics. No hyphen is needed.
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 6:49
  • Is there a suggestion in there somewhere, @Kris?
    – DougM
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 14:10
  • No more than what I said. Perhaps, my answer below is clearer.
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 14:26
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Social media is a term, a noun phrase that is now well established with its own distinct meaning and formal definition. It's no longer an adjective-noun phrase. (The rest of the media are not unsocial and are not unsuitable for social exchange.) Of course, there is no hyphen in social media either.

Treat it as you would treat a single-word noun for all purposes.

By hyphenating, we are creating a new adjective-adjective/ adjective-noun compound adjective that will derive its meaning from the meanings of the individual words, which is not what is intended.

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I agree with Kris.

I think some are inclined to hyphenate social media just because the term itself has more than one word. I don't think that's enough reason to hyphenate. For instance, Pittsburgh Steelers is an entity in and of itself. You wouldn't then write "Pittsburgh-Steelers t-shirt" or "Pittsburgh-Steelers poster."

Similarly, unlike familiar phrases like "problem solving" (as in "problem-solving" plan), social media is a term in and of itself. The part of speech is noun and Merriam-Webster treats it as a single term (not two separate words). Here is the Merriam-Webster entry: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/social+media?show=0&t=1402414656. It is widely used culturally and used without the hyphen. It should be treated as a single word. I wouldn't hyphenate it.

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  • I would argue that hyphenation of proper nouns is a separate issue, and so shouldn't be used as an example supporting your POV here.
    – BobRodes
    Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 19:53

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