This question is prompted by the earlier question Should I use a hyphen after -ly when modifying a verb in the past participle verb? Please don't close this as a dup unless there's a later answer there that answers my specific question (or another relevant question that I haven't been able to find).

My hypothesis is that adjectival "-ly adverb + past participle" combinations are more likely to include a hyphen when they occur before the relevant noun. But my Google-fu is inadequate to the task of establishing whether this is true or not, and my knowledge of formal grammar certainly isn't good enough to know of any "rules" that might be involved here.

Note the [optional] element in the example usage forming the question title. I don't see why...

Coffee boiled is coffee spoiled.

...should be grammatically any different to...

Coffee boiled is coffee which is spoiled.

...but I'm prepared to be disabused on that point.

Is the hyphen in my question title any more justified in the first badly written than the second?

EDIT: In case I haven't made myself clear, I'm not asking for answers telling me that the hyphen is never justified. Unless they're accompanied by evidence (not opinion) showing that in fact my hypothesis is untrue anyway, so it's meaningless to ask why the phenomenon occurs.

  • possible duplicate of "A place nearby" but not "A place good" Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 1:15
  • 2
    See John Lawler’s “eleven-year-old boy” rule in his answer to the earlier question. “One-word modifiers precede the noun; modifiers of more than one word follow the noun.” Thus, multi-word modifiers before the noun must be compounded with a hyphen. Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 1:16
  • (This question is entirely unlike the previous one, but the accepted answer to it neatly answers this one.) Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 1:26
  • Aren't you asking two independent questions here? I don't see the connection of your optional issue to the question at the end of your post. Also, see my answer to your referenced question. Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 2:12
  • @Jim: You misunderstand my question. I'm not interested in whether anyone thinks the hyphens shouldn't be there in any case. I'm asking whether those who would use a hyphen are more likely to do so where the multi-word adjectival phrase comes before the noun rather than after it. Nor am I interested in people telling me that there's some such distinction based on the presence of an [optional] component as indicated. So I'm not "asking" about that as a second question - I'm just asking answerers not to dwell on that (imho, irrelevant) issue. Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 13:25

4 Answers 4


In the first case, you need the hyphen to assure that badly modifies written into one adjective, describing book. Otherwise it could be a badly book, which makes no sense.

  • There you go getting logic all wrapped up in language again… (i.e. good answer).
    – David M
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 1:03
  • 2
    "a badly written book" is unambiguous to me (and does not need a hyphen between 'badly' and 'written'.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 3:22
  • But you should be able to drop adjectives to simplify a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence. Without the hyphen, you can't. I agree it isn't hard to parse in this example, but that's why the hyphen is there.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 20:08

For what it's worth, I think that a

Badly-written book

is the same as a

Book badly written

In the right sentence, the latter could exude a whiff of snootiness, superiority, and condescension, however.

Question: What did you think of Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea"?


Answer: Frankly, I think it was a book badly written.

Only the most obtuse person reading either sentence would think the book was written in cursive, and bad cursive at that! Then again, you never know. Some people are as obtuse as a goose (or as dense as a fence, or inane as a crane, or silly as a wet Willie--well, you get the idea).


There is no need to have a hyphen in the phrase "badly written book" since there is no ambiguity: as an adverb, "badly" modifies the adjective "written".

  • If that's what you think then fine. But I'm not asking whether the hyphen is ever necessary. I'm asking why it's more likely to be used in compound forms before the noun rather than after. Allowing for the possibility that someone might offer proof (not just an opinion) that it's no more likely anyway, so there's no meaning to the idea of explaining why this might be so. Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 13:34
  • Rightly downvoted, I should have read the question more closely. Sorry about that. Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 13:36
  • I applaud your recognition of the point. I think if you delete the question you will avoid the loss of rep from my downvote (but if you'd already done so I would be unable to post this comment! :) I may retract the downvote later anyway, since it seems to have served its purpose! Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 13:51
  • Related example: a one-of-a-kind shoe vs. a shoe that is one of a kind. Should the latter be hyphenated or not? Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 15:34
  • 2
    Indeed. Whilst it might be a tad formal/dated/poetic, one could (just about) validly say "The drowning kitten was rescued by a boy ten years old". Whereas, as John Lawler points out, if we put that in the "leading" position, not only do we need the hyphens, we also don't inflect for plurality in the more natural "The drowning kitten was rescued by a ten-year-old boy". Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 16:31

Presumably it's just out of habit, no? Strings of words being used together to modify a noun are usually hyphenated, and adjectives usually precede nouns in English, therefore people sometimes add unnecessary hyphens in that place for phrases like "badly-written book"?

  • Hi Molly, welcome to EL&U. It seems you aren't quite sure of your answer. In this case I encourage you to comment on the question instead of answering.
    – Adam
    Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 8:01

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