The oft-cited first sentence of this work

Why would you not just use two words, oft cited?

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    Oft is an archaic or literary form of often; nowadays, you probably find it in hyphened form, such as oft-cited and oft-quoted. – kiamlaluno Mar 19 '11 at 13:26

Oft-cited is a phrasal adjective (a/k/a compound modifier). Because "oft" and "cited" must be interpreted together in order to precisely convey the intended meaning, the hyphen is placed between them to tie them together and prevent any mistaken interpretation of them as two separate modifiers.

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  • why not: 'The oft cited first sentence of this work'. this also seems correct'. – dodo Mar 19 '11 at 15:16
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    @dodo That doesn't seem quite as clear to me. – Kelly Hess Mar 19 '11 at 18:31
  • @dodo but your spelling works great in the predicate: "the first sentence in this work is oft cited to argue for the flat-earth hypothesis." – Pete Wilson Mar 19 '11 at 21:33

You want to distinguish between "the first sentence of the work, which happens to be often cited"; "the sentence of the work which is often cited first"; and "the earliest of the many sentences of the work which are often cited". This makes clear it is the first of these alternatives.

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"Oft," like "often," is an adverb and requires no hyphenation when it modifies an adjective. In the phrase, "The oft-cited first sentence of this work," the hyphen introduces no clarity because "oft," an adverb, cannot modify anything here but "cited," an adjective—and a hyphen that doesn't introduce clarity is superfluous and is certainly not needed.

The latter two distinctions suggested by jwpat7 are nonsense and cannot possibly be considered in this construction. He seems to be under the impression that "oft" is an adjective and could be construed as modifying "cited first sentence" or "first sentence" alone, neither of which is possible. Adverbs do not modify nouns.

More simply put: never use a hyphen between an adverb and an adjective. Modifying adjectives is part of adverbs' job. Hyphens are for when adjectives act like adverbs and modify other adjectives.

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