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Please consider the two examples below. Which, technically, without rephrasing, is the correct choice?

  1. non-administrator-level-user privileges [Here the four-word compound adjective modifies "privileges".]

  2. non-administrator level-user privileges [Here "non-administrator-level" is the modifier of the hyphenated "user-privileges". Should "user-privileges" be hyphenated here, as a noun, when it follows the already-hyphenated "non-administrator-level"?]

Of course, we could truncate the phrase by deleting "level" and be left with "non-administrator-user privileges", which is, in my opinion, correctly punctuated (yes or no?) and probably the best option, no doubt. Agreed?

My question is whether or not 1 or 2 is the better punctuation choice. And why? Does each example have a different meaning because of the shift in hyphenation, or do they both have the same meaning?

marked as duplicate by tchrist, choster, Community Dec 19 '15 at 20:28

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  • 1
    Your 4th paragraph deletes "level" not "user" – candied_orange Dec 19 '15 at 12:58
  • Oops. Nice catch. That's what I meant. Didn't have morning coffee yet. I'll change it now😊 – londonderry Dec 19 '15 at 13:09
  • See e.g. How to connect a word and a phrase with a hyphen?. Personally, in the absence of other context, I would truncate to non-administrator privileges, but that's just a matter of opinion. – choster Dec 19 '15 at 19:57
  • I agree, choster. Less is sometimes more. – londonderry Dec 19 '15 at 20:28

The "user" belongs more with the "privileges" than it does with "level".

Therefore, if you are intent on using lots of hyphens, I would suggest this is more correct than either of your two alternatives:

non-administrator-level user privileges

However less can be more, so I would suggest:

non-administrator level user privileges

This is just as clear, perhaps more so, than any of the other options.


None of the above.

Hyphenation is a matter of style. So claiming correct or incorrect is a tad subjective. However, there are rules for style if you choose to follow a manual of style.

The Chicago Manual of Style has many hyphenation rules, many of which boil down to this:

Adjective form hyphenated before but not after a noun.

So the answer depends on what you're trying to make into a noun.

  1. is correct if privileges is your noun and the rest is your adjective. However, level and user both seem redundant here and so should be removed.

  2. has a typo. The bracketed comments mention non-administrator-level but the bold text has no hyphen between non-administrator and level-user

  1. in bold, is wrong because level-user is nonsense in this context.
  1. in brackets, I decode your intent as:
  1. non-administrator-level user-privileges

This would make sense if non-administrator-level was the adjective and user-privileges were a noun. However, that would mean that user was a prefix (like non) and it's not.

I would reword it as

non-administrator privileges

but since you refuse rephrasing try

non-administrator level user privileges

  • While on the subject, should "peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich", "ice-cream sandwich", "living-room furniture", "driver's-side door", and "passenger-side door" get hyphens as shown? Many thanks for your opinions.😊 – londonderry Dec 19 '15 at 17:27
  • I researched the above in The New Yorker, and they hyphenate all of them. Good enough for me! 😊 – londonderry Dec 19 '15 at 20:30

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