Would it be acceptable to write the following using the hyphens below:

I am trying to get back to my pre-secret-mistress bliss.

Or should it be:

I am trying to get back to my pre-secret mistress bliss.

Is it ok to write:

It's taunting me like some just-out-of-reach nirvana.

Any advice would be appreciated. I have read a style guide on the subject and am now second-guessing myself. Thank you!

  • Looks ok to me. I'm not a great fan of hyphens, they strike me as impossibly mawkish sometimes, but there's nothing wrong with your first example: pre-secret-mistress bliss. Just-out-of-reach is pushing it, though, I think. That's a whole lot of hyphens to convey a relatively simple concept. – Ricky Oct 22 '15 at 6:03
  • Thanks Ricky. Do you think "It's taunting me like some just out of reach nirvana" is ok? – MoniqueH Oct 22 '15 at 6:05
  • Not quite. Why not alter it a little? "It's taunting me like a painfully close-by yet inaccessible nirvana." – Ricky Oct 22 '15 at 6:18
  • I'd say the first and last are fine. You want to avoid much longer strings, and it gets messy when you're hyphenating a hyphenated word, but both of your cases are fairly simple. – Hot Licks Oct 22 '15 at 8:40

As a guide, if the compound is functioning as an adjective, meaning it is followed by a noun, there should be a hyphen between each element in the phrase. This clarifies the meaning by joining them into one unit. A man-eating fish is different to a man eating fish, to use a very common example.

In your examples, pre-secret-mistress is preferable to pre-secret mistress, as the latter suggests that you are referring to the mistress you had pre-secret.

More information about hyphens in compounds here.

  • Thank you so much Roaring Fish! I'll definitely keep your answer in mind. Can I pick your brain about: It's taunting me like some just-out-of-reach nirvana. Would you find that acceptable? – MoniqueH Oct 22 '15 at 7:55
  • Hi Roaring Fish, what is your opinion on whether the hyphens below are appropriate: He's a ludicrously-tanned, fifty-something day trader-turned-hedge fund owner comes Are hyphens necessary here, in particular the last two around turned? – MoniqueH Nov 7 '15 at 5:37

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