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I work and write for a tech company that has created many first-in-the-world technologies. In press releases, I often write something like “[Company name] today announced another world’s first with the development of [new technology].” My question has to do with talking about these technologies collectively, as in a sentence like: “These world’s first technologies have made [company name] a leader in the industry.”

When “world’s first” is used as an adjective phrase, are there any rules dictating the use of the apostrophe? Should it be “world’s first technologies” or “world-first technologies”?

An acquaintance believes “world-first technologies” is correct, but that just doesn’t sound right to me. I didn’t find anything that addresses this particular (admittedly persnickety) quandary in my Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition) or online. Any and all insight would be welcome and appreciated.

  • Consider using the noun innovation instead of world's first in the phrase "announced another world’s first". In the sentence that starts "“These world’s first technologies...", I suggest replacing "world's first" with the adjective novel or innovative. – Erik Kowal Oct 4 '14 at 4:06
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I don’t much care for world-first technologies: why put the world first and yourself second (or something like that)? It reads wrong.

Given how we have no qualms when the guy at the door’s knock awakens you, you might put it at the end of the entire phrase leading up to it, but people get all squeamish about my wife and I’s dinner.

I guess you could go for a double-barrelled these world’s-first technologies or just plain these first-in-the-world technologies. That’s probably the best I can suggest, despite how ugly it looks.

But I would not go with these world’s first technologies without any hyphenation, lest it be misread as meaning something else. Consider the problem of speaking of just one of them: this world’s first technology has a different reading, and although your particular case of these probably disallows that, it is a bit of a head-scratcher upon first read.

The problem with my suggestions is that I just don’t much like a lot of all-over-the-place hyphens in my text. But there aren’t any solutions that are free of them but clearly stated.

  • This is a good answer—but in the many press releases I've dealt with as a copy editor, I have noticed a tendency by writers to avoid both apostrophes and hyphens in situations like this one. So here, the phrase would most likely arrive in this form: "These world first technologies have made [company name] a leader in the industry." Then, if (as the writer hopes) some lazy publisher cuts and pastes blocks of the press release into an instant story, it is up to the newspaper's copy editor to decide whether to add a hyphen, add an apostrophe, add both, or run the wording as is. – Sven Yargs Jun 22 '17 at 19:31
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There is merit in your friend's desire to add a hyphen, but I think tchrist is right to suggest keeping the apostrophe for "world's-first technology". Your friend's "world-first technology" sounds like the world is placed before all others (like me-first technology).

Regarding hyphenation: I generally hyphenate adjectival phrases that belong together as a service to the reader, who should never have to wonder if the words modify the object separately or together. So, as a hopefully clear example, I would hyphenate for "big-deal bureaucrat", but not for a "big fat bureaucrat".

You can make this distinction for when to hyphenate by asking whether the words hold the same meaning when either word is removed: in my example "big bureaucrat" might work but "deal bureaucrat" does not, so these should be hyphenated. In your case, neither "world's technology" or "first technology" is what you mean to say, so you should hyphenate to "world's-first".

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