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How would I hypenate the phrase 'high poverty public school?'

My first guess was 'high-poverty public school', but I'm not really sure.

  • I assume you are using the term 'public school' in its American sense. I think this is important to your question, because in Britain the term 'public school' means a highly elitist fee-paying school that is independent of direct state subsidy. (fees at many of them could easily be as high as $70,000 per annum per child) It would be unlikely to be associated with 'high-poverty'. – WS2 Oct 30 '14 at 22:02
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    Used in the British sense I would write high-poverty public school, assuming there were such an institution. – WS2 Oct 30 '14 at 22:25
  • "high-poverty-public school" is a school where the public is very poor, and I can't meaningfully parse "high poverty-public school" or "high poverty public school", so I'd say your first guess is just fine. – Amadan Oct 31 '14 at 0:43
  • @Amadan Now you have explained what the American sense means, I would recommend 'high-poverty-public school'. It is not a term which would ever be used in Britain: a) because 'public school' has a specific meaning, and b) the different social and welfare demographics do not lend themselves to such descriptors. – WS2 Oct 31 '14 at 7:47
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High poverty is a compound adjective in which the meaning is not significantly changed by a hyphen. You may choose to use a hyphen, in which case this becomes a hyphenated stacked modifier. The hyphen is not required because there is no significant difference between a high poverty noun and a high-poverty noun. (Contrast with the difference between a violent-weather conference and a violent weather conference.)

Public school is a compound noun. The adjective, hyphenated or not, does not take another hyphen between itself and the noun. Therefore, the correct usages are high-poverty public school or high poverty public school. High-poverty-public school would remove the compound noun meaning of 'public school' and shift public into part of the adjective, implying the school belongs to or serves a high poverty public.

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  • That is not my understanding from what @Amadan has commented. That suggests to me that it is a school in an area where there is a 'high-poverty public', and that would call for double hyphenation if a further noun were added, such has high-poverty-public hospital. I don't necessarily accept this to be the intended meaning, but we do need to be clear on meaning before considering the number of hyphens. Is it the school which is 'high-poverty', or the public around it? – WS2 Oct 31 '14 at 7:54
  • @WS2: I'll actually agree with rwollr: "public" in "high-poverty-public school" is a noun, thus it's a school where the public is high-poverty. And I also agree that if "public school" is a compound lexical item, the hyphen is not needed (so "high poverty public school" is a public school that has something to do with a situation of high poverty, presumably one where high poverty of students is an issue, as opposed to "very poor public school", a school with not enough funding). – Amadan Oct 31 '14 at 8:11
  • @Amadan I am still not clear as to whether the 'high poverty' is meant to describe the school, or its public hinterland. – WS2 Oct 31 '14 at 16:03
  • @WS2 Depends on how you write it. High poverty is a compound adjective, meaning being very poverty-stricken. A high-poverty public school is a public school that is poverty-stricken, which presumably will refer to the facility, faculty and students. Contrast with an affluent public school, which can be expected to be well maintained, utilize a staff of well paid teachers, and be comprised of a well-off student body. A high-poverty-public school could be a school that itself is not necessarily poverty-stricken but which serves a public that is. – rw-nandemo Oct 31 '14 at 23:10
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I believe it would be High-Poverty, Public School.

you would say, "my sister was just admitted to a high-poverty, public school, on the lower east side."

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    I've never seen a comma used in such a context. – Hot Licks Oct 31 '14 at 1:30
  • But is it the school which is 'high-poverty'. or is it the 'public' of the area in which it is situate? – WS2 Oct 31 '14 at 7:56

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