1

There are many topics here related to multiple hyphen use, which seems to depend on various factors.

  • human-voice controlled system
  • human-voice-controlled system
  • human voice-controlled system

Which is correct? Typically, human voice when used without the word controlled, need not be hyphenated.

  • software and finite-state-machine -based approach
  • software- and finite-state-machine -based approach
  • software and finite state machine-based approach
  • software- and finite-state-machine-based approach
  • software and finite-state-machine-based approach

Which of the above are correct and incorrect, and why?

  • You never see hyphens at the beginnings of words (like -based). – Peter Shor Dec 16 '14 at 12:12
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The use of hyphens is to reduce ambiguity, and, in the case of multiple modifiers, to show which ones modify each other.

In the first case I would go with human-voice controlled system. In this case, however, it is pretty easy to guess that human must modify voice, even without hyphens.

In the second case, on the other hand, you need the hyphens because it's far from clear from the sentence which modifiers go together.

Software-and-finite-state machine-based approach might be correct ("software" and "finite-state" together modifying "machine-based").

Software and finite-state machine-based approach might be correct ("software" and "finite-state" both modifying "machine-based").

Software and finite-state-machine-based approach might be correct ("software" and "finite-state-machine-based" both modifying approach).

Software- and finite-state-machine-based approach might be correct ("software" and "finite-state-machine" both modifying "based") although in this case I would rewrite as software-based and finite-state-machine-based approach, because even with the hyphens, it's still ambiguous and confusing, and the dangling hyphen is ugly.

The point is, is it a finite-state machine (the machine is in a finite state)? Or a finite state-machine (the state-machine is finite)? You may know which single one of these different interpretations makes sense, but the reader may not, and the hyphens need to be placed to make it as easy as possible to figure out.

  • True it depends on what phrase/word is being modified. But, couple of questions. 1) If there were no FSM (finite state machine), then for "software-based" is a hyphen even needed? Don't we use the term "software based" or "voice controlled" without hyphens all the time. 2) finite state machine is one term and is used without hyphens in scientific textbooks 3) where less words more information is important (e.g. resumes), the dangling modifier is useful 4) I think i have seen the usage in S4 (S4: software and finite-state-machine -based approach) is acceptable per some style guide, correct? – Joe Black Nov 15 '14 at 21:17
  • Good writing is all about communicating with your audience --the rules are there to help that goal. If you're using terms that you are confident your audience will understand without the hyphens, then you can probably safely omit them. I'm not personally familiar with finite state machines (finite-state machines?), but presumably your audience is. As far as the dangling or leading hyphens, I would avoid them, no matter what the style guides say, because they are too easy to misread and misinterpret. Keep in mind that you don't want to make your reader have to work to understand you. – Chris Sunami Nov 15 '14 at 21:37
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I wasn't sure if the comment was the right place to post, so reproduced here.

True it depends on what phrase/word is being modified. But, couple of questions.

1) If there were no FSM (finite state machine), then for "software-based" is a hyphen even needed? Don't we use the term "software based" or "voice controlled" without hyphens all the time.

2) finite state machine is one term and is used without hyphens in scientific textbooks

3) where less words more information is important (e.g. resumes), the dangling modifier is useful

4) I think i have seen the usage in S4 (S4: software and finite-state-machine -based approach) is acceptable per some style guide, correct?

  • This was correct as a comment, it should be removed as an answer. – Chris Sunami Nov 15 '14 at 21:33

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