Should I write "cost-benefit" (hyphen) or "cost–benefit" (en dash), and why?
1duplicate? english.stackexchange.com/questions/2116/…– z7sg ѪApr 20, 2011 at 21:31
@z7sg: I'm not sure. The answer to that question only covers en dashes for numbers ("'in years 1939–1945' or 'New York beat Los Angeles 98–95'"), but not for words (e.g. mother–daughter relationship or Paris–London flight).– RegDwigнtApr 20, 2011 at 21:45
@z7sg, to my reading, that thread doesn't explicitly answer this question -- its answers could argue for either form.– pilcrowApr 20, 2011 at 21:46
1@RegDwight Perhaps the answer isn't clear enough but it does say: 'A hyphen is used to join words in a compound construction' That's the answer imo, and as for why I'm not sure how you could answer that.– z7sg ѪApr 20, 2011 at 21:47
1The accepted answer for the other question clearly states that hyphens are used for joining "words in a compound construction." It seems it covers also the cost-benefit case.– apadernoJun 19, 2011 at 2:50
Formally, hyphens are for joining terms, and en dashes are for ranges and distinctions. En dashes have a secondary application joining terms that are already hyphenated or contain spaces, but that doesn't apply here. In this situation I would use an en dash or a slash. Of course, if you do write it with a hyphen, nobody is going to be confused.
Technically, cost–benefit analysis can be interpreted as either [cost–benefit] analysis—an analysis of costs versus benefits—or cost–[benefit analysis]—costs versus an analysis of benefits. Luckily, the latter doesn't make any sense and would really only arise from deliberate pedantic misinterpretation.
can you expand on this a bit? Are you saying you see "cost–benefit" as a range or a distinction? Apr 22, 2011 at 15:00
@pilcrow: cost–benefit is a distinction; 3–4 is a range. Both use en dashes. Apr 23, 2011 at 17:29
I wouldn't have phrased it as a distinction, but I see what you're saying. Apr 24, 2011 at 15:32
I don't know why you were anonymously downvoted, Jon. +1 from me. Jun 19, 2011 at 15:32
Nobody here has nailed it. Here's the answer:
In the construction "Pre–Civil War," the en-dash is correct because it modifies both "civil" and "war." What the OP is wondering is whether this idea carries over to "cost-benefit ratio" and of course you can see that it doesn't, because "benefit ratio" is not a compound term.
This is a very arcane bit of typesetting knowledge, and you'll see it observed only in the highest-end publications like New York Review of Books and The Economist.
Thank you, Cerberus. It's taking me a very long time to master the formatting skills needed to do the kind of thing you just did. Apr 21, 2011 at 2:16
1@TheRaven: I am using an Autohotkey script to type accents quickly and without effort. I type
--xxfor an m-dash. It appears immediately as I type. You can change the trigger strings at will. The AHK code I use is
:*?:--qq::–for n-dash and
:*?:--xx::—for m-dash. If you want this and need help, let me know. I also use
ï, etc. etc. I despise having to hold down shift/alt/control as much as using quotation marks as dead keys. Apr 21, 2011 at 2:31
3@The Raven, good answer, but your powers of mind reading ("What the OP is wondering...") have quite failed you. I'm familiar with use of an en-dash as a "super-hyphen," if you will, but that's not why I'd think to use it in this case. Apr 22, 2011 at 14:10
1In that case, the hyphen is correct. The only possible use of an en-dash in running text is as a "super-hyphen," as you put it, outside of its use as a marker for spans between numeric ranges. I generally follow the Chicago Manual of Style, but you don't have to. Apr 23, 2011 at 22:20
1'It's taking me a very long time to master the formatting skills needed to do the kind of thing you just did.' and 'This is a very arcane bit of typesetting knowledge' lead me to query where 'correct / highest-end' becomes 'over-fastidious' or even silly. Oct 8, 2014 at 14:14
There isn't a definitive single answer. The distinction between hyphens and en dashes has more to do with typesetting rules than usage.
In my experience, then, a hyphen is the sensible choice for uniting two words into a compound form. I don't actually have an en dash on my keyboard, and trying to signify one with a double dash makes matters worse. The word processing program you use may impose what it thinks is correct. I have not noticed what mine does.
If you use a slash it might look even less ambiguous:
In general use, it should be a hyphen. An en dash is usually used more for joining two compound modifiers (personal cost–society benefit).