I would like to know how to correctly hyphenate the phrase "something1-to-something2", where something2 is comprised of multiple words.

To clarify, here is the example where something1 and something2 are comprised of only one word each: node-to-surface element

Example I am having problems with: node-to-rigid flat surface element.

How to correctly hyphenate in this case?

Many thanks!

  • Can you give us the whole sentence please, as it doesn't make much sense at the moment.
    – Mynamite
    Jan 16, 2015 at 0:41
  • "Simplified node-to-rigid flat surface contact element was implemented in Matlab." Unfortunately, I cannot rewrite the phrase, I would just like to know how to hyphenate multiple phrases that are connected with -to-. Hope that helps.
    – Lyra
    Jan 16, 2015 at 0:46
  • I would avoid hyphenation in this case and say something like "bla bla connecting (or relating) something1 to something2". Jan 16, 2015 at 0:49
  • Unfortunately I can't. Usually it is simpler, like node-to-node element or node-to-surface element, but in this case "surface" needs to be "rigid flat surface".
    – Lyra
    Jan 16, 2015 at 0:52

2 Answers 2


If you're creating a hyphenated compound and one of the elements is already an hyphenated or open compound (that is, one with spaces between the words) use an en-dash for the wider compound:

node–to–rigid flat surface


(An exception being if you're hyphenating with a prefix (rather than an independent word) onto a hyphenated compound, then you might just use a hyphen).


Hyphens are used to connect words which are linked to form adjectives placed before nouns.

The report is up to date (no hyphens)
This is an up-to-date report.

So in your sentence it would depend on which elements you thought were comprising the multi-word adjective in front of the noun.

They are used to distinguish elements which might otherwise cause confusion (grammar-monster.com):

a heavy-metal detector
a heavy metal detector

Both are correct, but they mean different things. The first device detects heavy metals. The second device detects metal, and the device is heavy.

It's hard to see how the words in your sentence would be misunderstood in this way. If they are simple adjectives you can just separate them with commas:

Simplified node-to-rigid, flat surface contact element was implemented in Matlab

Does this make sense, in context? But it's a fairly horrible sentence, brief to the point of incomprehensibility.

EDIT Based on OP's comment and link below, it seems clear that the important compound elements are:


I think these elements should not be separated by other adjectives. Personally I would write:

Simplified node-to-surface (rigid flat) contact element was implemented in Matlab

You could then insert any other criteria from the table in the same way, eg node-to-surface (thermal) contact element.

  • I don't think so. I know it is hard to put the phrase into context since it is very specific. The way I put it is being used here mostreal.sk/html/guide_55/g-str/GSTR9.htm - I just wanted to make sure this is a correct way to write it since I need to use it in my paper.
    – Lyra
    Jan 16, 2015 at 1:12
  • That's clearer, thanks, please see my edit - I hope that works better.
    – Mynamite
    Jan 16, 2015 at 1:25

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