Are hyphens needed in these? If so, where would you insert them?

  1. Joel applied for the assistant store manager position.
    (Not: assistant-store-manager position, right?)

  2. Joel was enrolled in the assistant store manager trainee program.
    (Not: assistant-store-manager-trainee program, correct?)

  3. Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream
    (Not: chocolate-chip-cookie-dough ice cream, correct?)

Do you support my original versions without the hyphens?


Purdue calls compounding "in a state of flux," but lists a bunch of cases in which clear rules are established. https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/576/1/ Your examples don't fall under any of those, so I wouldn't hyphenate any of them. None of them are unclear without hyphens, but once you add them I start to do a double-take. Evidence for this is that google books only finds one hyphenated permutation of "chocolate chip cookie dough," and it's still less common than the un-hyphenated. enter image description here

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  • Hi, brendan. I believe that you can't use Ngram charts to gauge the relative popularity of hyphenated and unhyphenated word forms. For example, the chart note on your Ngram reports, "Replaced chocolate-chip cookie dough with chocolate - chip cookie dough." I don't know whether that means that the results Ngram is graphing in red are for "chocolat minus chip cookie dough" or something else, but I do know that it's not tracking instances of "chocolate-chip cookiee dough." – Sven Yargs Apr 3 '14 at 21:58
  • You might be right. But it does say "to match the way we process the books." I was interpreting that to mean that when a page is scanned the computer is instructed to add spaces around hyphens regardless of situation. Like if you compare "cost-effective" to "cost effective" the former is much more popular, even though ngrams adds the spaces around the hyphen... – brendan Apr 4 '14 at 1:29
  • I agree with Sven. I don't think NGrams is doing what you think it is doing. Your answer is perfectly fine without the NGram image, by the way. I suggest removing the chart until we can figure out how to properly NGram with punctuation included. – MrHen Apr 7 '14 at 14:14

This is how I would write them:

Joel applied for the assistant store-manager position.

Joel was enrolled in the assistant store-manager trainee program.

In both of these cases, you want to make it clear that assistant modifies "store manager" as a whole, not just "store". The second use case is arguably ambiguous between assistant modifying "store manager" and modifying "store-manager trainee", but when you add too many hyphens you make things less clear rather than more so.

chocolate-chip cookie-dough ice cream

"Chocolate chip" as a unit is the modifier of "cookie dough" as a unit

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  • One more. He was assigned as the organized retail-crime coordinator. He was assigned to the organized retail-crime coordinator position. Both OK? If not, where would those hyphens be used? – whippoorwill Feb 12 '14 at 21:35
  • I'm a little unclear as to what the phrase as a whole means. Is organized retail-crime a form of organized crime focused around retail? Assuming "retail crime" is the key unit in these sentences, both are fine. If it's crime centered around organized retail then it would be organized-retail crime coordinator instead. BTW, feel free to add an upvote or to accept this answer if you are satisfied with it. – Chris Sunami Feb 13 '14 at 1:53
  • Maybe it should be 'organized-retail-crime coordinator', though I hate the hyphens. 'Organized retail crime' is a single concept modifying 'coordinator'. Wish I could circumvent those homely hyphens, but there's no way around it. – whippoorwill Feb 13 '14 at 2:45
  • The ambiguity is whether it's organized retail-crime or if it's organized-retail crime. Is the retail crime organized, or is the the organized retail criminal? Hyphenating all three words doesn't help at all. – Chris Sunami Feb 13 '14 at 2:48
  • Actually, in both your examples assistant now modifies position. In other words, you turned the store manager into a single unit, but that is not what we want; much rather, the single unit here is all three words "assistant store manager". So either hyphenate it all throughout, or don't hyphenate at all. Hyphens are meant to resolve ambiguity, not to create it. "Assistant store manager position" is perfectly unambiguous as is, so frankly, you should not hyphenate at all. This is not German. – RegDwigнt Apr 3 '14 at 15:52

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