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Atmospheric sea salt particles contain sulfate but also other sources of atmospheric sulfate exist. In scientific studies on particulate sulfate air pollution it is common to split between sulfate related to sea salt emissions and sulfate related to other sources. The sulfate from other sources is denoted as non-sea salt sulfate, non-sea-salt sulfate, and non-sea-salt-sulfate in the scientific literature. Thus, there is no consistent usage.

I assume that non(-)sea(-)salt is considered as adjective to sulfate. Therefore, non-sea-salt-sulfate is not correct. Based on answers to the question Pluralization rule for “five-year-old children”, “20 pound note”, “10 mile run” and on the answer Eleven-year-old boy rule. I would assume that non-sea-salt sulfate is the correct way of writing it. However, from my subjective feeling, non-sea salt sulfate is more commonly used.

My question is: Where do hyphens need to be placed in American English?

If there are differences in British English, I would be also interested in them.

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    Well the first and most obvious thing from a British perspective is that we wouldn't write sulfate any more than wear our knickers or underpants on the outside of our trousers. We spell it sulphate. – WS2 Apr 14 '16 at 11:17
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    Personally I would write sea-salt sulphate, and non-sea-salt sulphate, but don't expect every subject of the Queen to agree with me. – WS2 Apr 14 '16 at 11:24
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If you were describing the salt, it would be sea salt or non-sea salt. As you're making the whole of non-sea salt into a compound adjective, (as a pendantic Brit) I agree with you & would say that the entire compound adjective should be hyphenated, for clarity amongst other reasons, hence I suggest non-sea-salt sulphate. It may be more 'ugly' but it's clearer and unmabiguous.

Of course, you could get round the problem by referring to sulphate from non-sea salt - but that rather dodges the question.

P.S. I'd written this answer before seeing either of WS2's comments - and hadn't even noticed that I was spelling sulphate differently from the questioner: I just automatically spelt it the 'right' way! :-)

  • Thanks for the fast reply. So, apart from sul(ph|f)ate, is there any other difference between British and American English? If not, I would accept your answer as correct. – daniel.neumann Apr 14 '16 at 18:07
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    @daniel.neumann Not that I'm aware of in this context, but you'd need an American to confirm that! – TrevorD Apr 14 '16 at 23:09

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