my question is about hyphenating adjectives that have more than two parts. For this example, I can find four different options:

  • working life oriented
  • working-life oriented
  • working life-oriented
  • working-life-oriented

Which one is correct, according to the finest rules of British English grammar? Thanks!

  • 1
    You probably want working-life oriented, since working life-oriented would refer to things which are oriented towards life, further modified to indicate that they do actually work. But it might help if you gave more context (what noun do you want to modify, for example?). Sep 26 '16 at 12:29
  • There are no hard-and-fast rules for this. You kinda have to go with what "makes sense". And note that it gets stranger when the term is going to be used in an adjective sense to modify another word, vs being stand-alone.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 26 '16 at 12:33
  • I appreciate that there are situations where one might need to use three adjectives with a complex relationship, as in your example. But your example doesn't flow well, and would be fairly easy to rewrite, so as to avoid the issue. Sep 26 '16 at 23:18
  • Does a noun come after the phrase? e.g. "working-life-oriented company"? Mar 19 '18 at 21:15

The Chicago Manual of Style recommends an en-dash between life and oriented. A hyphen leads to too much confusion, and a pair of hyphens gives the impression of something like better-than-average results.

6.80 En-dashes with compound adjectives. The en-dash can be used in the place of a hyphen in a compound adjective when one of its elements consists of an open compound ...

Similar circumstances occur with named objects like:

  1. Jane Byrne–interchange traffic
  2. John F. Kennedy–airport parking
  3. Pre–Rogers and Hammerstein musicals


  1. Triassic- and Jurassic-era fossils [Two hyphens used because not a single open compound
  2. Quasi-public–quasi-judicial [Two hyphens and an en-dash in this complicated formation]


working life–oriented

My understanding is Chicago is increasingly being accepted overseas.

  • Apparently I'm not getting an en-dash on my not-so-Smartphone. A little help?
    – Stu W
    Sep 26 '16 at 13:52
  • 1
    Many years later, after this question was referenced by another question, I came, I saw, and I edited to replace your [-] representation of en dashes with the real thing. ;) Nov 23 '19 at 19:51

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