I'm certain this can't be the only example there is of a hyphenated verb, but it's the only one I can think of right now.

How should one appropriately convert "mouse-over" into the past tense? Should it be "moused-over" or "mouse-overed"?

Also, are there any other verb-preposition combinations like this that could be used as examples?

6 Answers 6


The term in question is phrasal verb which is defined as

a phrase which consists of a verb in combination with a preposition or adverb or both, the meaning of which is different from the meaning of its separate parts. Cambridge

When changing the tense of a phrasal verb, only the verb is affected, for the simple reason that adverbs and prepositions do not change with tense, as they are not verbs. It is also crucial to note that phrasal verbs do not come with hyphens. However, a number of them can be hyphenated or compounded to function as adjectives or nouns with related or unrelated meanings.

To use your example, the past tense of mouse over would be moused over, while the present participle would be mousing over. You could also hyphenate to make a noun, as in, "The trackball is so bad that a simple mouse-over to the top-left corner of the screen takes more than twenty seconds."

For reference, here is the definition of mouse over:

mouse (verb)
[with adverbial of direction] use a mouse to move a cursor on a computer screen:
mouse over to the window and click on it NOAD

Some standard phrasal verbs, their tenses and their adjective/noun derivatives:

brush off      brushed off     brushing off           brush-off
fall out       fell out        falling out            fallout • falling-out
check in       checked in      checking in            check-in
cross over     crossed over    crossing over          crossover
drop out       dropped out     dropping out           dropout
knock down     knocked down    knocking down          knockdown • knock-down
see through    saw through     seeing through         see-through      
shape up       shaped up       shaping up             shape-up
stand by       stood by        standing by            standby
take away      took away       taking away            takeaway
take off       took off        taking off             takeoff • take-off

All this said, there are indeed some standard hyphenated verbs (these belong to the larger group of compound verbs, majority of which do not have a hypen, e.g. backstab, broadside, singsong, overtake, bypass, etc.), but these are not verb-preposition combinations, as you indicated. Rather, they terminate in verbs or are wholly verbal in composition. For these species, the tense change affects the word in its entirety. Examples:

(with hyphen)
booby-trap        booby-trapped    booby-trapping
flip-flop         flip-flopped     flip-flopping
see-saw           see-sawed        see-sawing
sun-dry           sun-dried        sun-drying
T-bone            T-boned          T-boning

However, there exists one (and there may be a few more) true hyphenated phrasal verb (verb-preposition) that is treated wholly as a verb: one-up

one-up         one-upped       one-upping             one up [on]

It appears, however, that this verb may be a back-formation from the original noun phrase and, later, adjective, one up.

  • 1
    I think it might help to note the examples the dictionary cites: look after, work out, and make up for. (The past tenses are looked after, worked out, and made up for.)
    – Marthaª
    Apr 2, 2011 at 0:18
  • @Martha: Thanks for the suggestion. I actually missed seeing those, but I was also too lazy to put mine in, as well.
    – Jimi Oke
    Apr 2, 2011 at 0:29

I would use "moused-over", as I see the verb as "to (move the) mouse" modified by the preposition "over". However, I can't back that up with any formal citation.


I'm not really sure the hyphen is needed in "mouse over". "mouse" is the verb and over is the location where you mouse. I would say "moused over" in past tense.

  • I think as a verb it is back-formed from the noun mouse-over or mouseover. Personally I'd go with what you said, but I'm not sure it's entirely a given in this case.
    – user1579
    Apr 1, 2011 at 13:37
  • @Rhodri: I'm pretty sure the mouseover event is formed from the verb "mouse over", since "events" describe actions. Apr 1, 2011 at 13:43
  • yes-ish. Close enough for this argument, anyway.
    – user1579
    Apr 1, 2011 at 13:48
  • 1
    I think you can consider the entire "mouse over" to be the verb, but it is a phrasal verb. So it works like "give up", "put away", and so on. And these sorts of verbs don't require the hyphen and work as you describe, with the inflection occurring on the main verb portion of the phrase.
    – Kosmonaut
    Apr 2, 2011 at 0:56
  • +1 That's one way to look at it. There are other, more complex aspects, if you look deeper.
    – Kris
    Oct 15, 2012 at 12:20

At http://www.uni-due.de/SHE/Productive_Lexical_Processes_in_Present-day_English.pdf, in an article by Raymond Hickey titled 'Productive lexical processes in present-day English', one finds (S 7.2):

... the many recent compound verbs, e.g. flame-grill, stir-fry, blow-dry, fire-bomb, shock-freeze, blister-pack, most of which do not have an analytic equivalent. For example to blow your hair dry is not the same as to blow-dry your hair, so that these compounds are clearly lexicalised.

With most of the above, conjugation is obvious, mirroring that of the verb component of the hyphenated compound. Hovever:

(1) With the obvious verb-verb compounds stir-fry and blow-dry, it is the second component that inflects: stir-fried / stir-frying; blow-dried / blow-drying. (AHDEL & Collins)

(2) The above dictionaries do not include shock-freeze (which might be awkward to construe, as an open compound, and would be clumsy as a closed compound, so I at least would prefer the hyphenated form). There is evidence on the web for the regularisation of the new verb - a new word - with the past tense shock-freezed, I suppose by analogy with the accepted new regular plural of mouse - mouses - for the new computer-related sense.

I cannot find many compound verbs of the form 'verb + X' (ie where the first component is a verb - 'verb + verb' seem the most common type of this subclass) - whether open, hyphenated or closed. The question of 'what constitutes a word' comes into play when looking at the three types of compounds. Certainly, the closed compound (N + V) verb shunpike is a single word by any definition, and inflects appropriately (shunpikes / shunpiking / shunpiked) even though the noun and not the verb constituent now has to do the inflecting.

Calling mouse-over a phrasal verb (or a prepositional verb) (terms I think are very counterproductive) - or, perhaps little better in this case, a transitive / intransitive multi-word verb - does not cope with the fact that the verb-particle binding here is so strong that we should consider the assembly a true compound. Indeed, I've found the closed version mouseover (for the noun, admittedly - plural mouseovers) on the web. This argues for terminal inflection of the new verb, mouse-overed.

  • +1 Excellently set out. Could have agreed even more if only you'd concluded with mouseovered rather than mouse-overed. I could be wrong, though.
    – Kris
    Oct 15, 2012 at 12:18
  • 1
    I don't have a problem with "mouseovers" as a plural of the noun "mouseover" which I consider more-or-less equivalent to "mouse-over", which is a perfectly good noun. However for a verb I don't the same logic applies. "stir-fry" is very different from "mouse over" because both "stir" and "fry" are verbs. Consider "one-up": here "up" is a verb, so you get "one-upping", etc. But in "mouse over" over is not a verb, and "mouse" by itself IS a verb, so why not just "moused over"? Oct 15, 2012 at 12:56

Pretty much universally (in English), the conjugation attaches to the verb part, not the preposition so:


is correct, even if the preposition doesn't have an object.

As to the frequency of these pairs in English, it is full of them, but I'm having trouble expressing them similarly to 'mouse-over'.


Part of the problem is that one needs to learn how to recognize (glaring) mistakes of punctuation... which seem to be what gave rise a question asking about "hyphenated verbs".

There is an adage: believe half of what you see and nothing of what you hear. (The one-half ratio is probably optimistic given the general degradation of rhetorical know-how in recent decades.)

Because the source of the passage "... mouse over..." was probably a less-than-well-edited instruction, an appropriate ranking of credibility of that material might well have been better placed somewhere between zero and one half. The other answers to the question provide a good, inferred solution for times when you can't be sure your source matter is written correctly. In that instance, simply removing the hyphen from the "miss-spelled verb" would have made the mistake obvious: hyphenated combining forms do not exist as verbs.

So when you see hyphenated verbs in print, a good idea might be to take your white-out and white out the misplaced hyphen.

  • "...hyphenated combining forms do not exist as verbs" I didn't know this.
    – Kris
    Oct 15, 2012 at 7:23
  • Neither did I. From the AHDEL: out-proc·ess (out-prss, -prss) tr.v. out-proc·essed, out-proc·ess·ing, out-proc·ess·es To generate the required paperwork in order to process (military personnel) out of one tour of duty into another or out of the armed forces ... and, more widely known: blow-dry (bldr) tr.v. blow-dried, blow-dry·ing, blow-dries To dry and often style (hair) with a hand-held dryer. Oct 15, 2012 at 10:40

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