I am lost with the rule that noun-gerund compounds do not get a hyphen if used as nouns.

Example: He liked novel reading.

Is it correct not to use a hyphen between novel and reading here?

I looked up "name dropping" in MWebster and they spell it with a hyphen. That would mean:

Example: Name-dropping is a famous practice.

What is the rule here? Or is it a style question?

And, I am in the academic field of linguistics. There are some compounds that I have never ever seen in nonhyphenated forms but which would technically go without a hyphen according to the rule.

Example: The process of meaning-making is complex.

What to do in these cases? Stick with the rule or with frequency of use?

  • Can anyone help out on this? If anyone can point me into the right direction I would be very grateful.
    – Sarah K
    Dec 10, 2016 at 17:31

2 Answers 2


I did some more research. This is what the Chicago Manual of Style has to say:

Noun form usually open; adjective form hyphenated before a noun. Some permanent compounds closed (see 7.78).

decision making/ a decision-making body; mountain climbing/ time-clock-punching employees/ a Nobel Prize–winning chemist (see 6.80) bookkeeping/ caregiving/ copyediting

However, I am still lost with examples like "meaning-making" or to add another one:

I really like novel reading OR I really like novel-reading.

How do I decide which one is correct? The rule states, if I understand it correctly, no hyphen. In the majority of cases (corpora) it says novel-reading with hyphen.

  • 2
    The general rule that overrides all other rules is to only use a hyphen to clarify. Your sentence He liked novel reading is actually ambiguous on its own. It could mean he liked to read novels or he liked to read novel things. If you use novel-reading that probably prevents the second interpretation. Whenever you think something might be taken in a way you did not mean it, you can use a hyphen to clarify. Otherwise, abstain from a hyphen just because (it matches some given pattern). Dec 11, 2016 at 10:27
  • 1
    @AlanCarmack Thank you very much for your input! The problem I have is that I would have never thought of your sound alternative interpretation for "novel reading". Could you maybe help me out with "meaning making" in the example quoted above? Would it be ambiguous? And do I understand you correctly that it wouldnt make sense to work with consistency in my entire paper in this case (e.g. either use a hyphen in these constructions at any time or not at all) but rather with case to case decisions?
    – Sarah K
    Dec 11, 2016 at 19:51
  • A google-search results in the use of meaning-making (hyphenated even when on its own) in a 1990 work and the use of meaning making (not hyphenated when not used before a noun) in a 2006 work. This suggests that by the 21st century, for an academic audience meaning making is no longer considered so new a compund word that it requires hyphens when it stands on its own as a noun. But one would hyphenate it before a noun, as in meaning-making processes. Overall, I do strongly suggest you be consistent in your usage. Dec 11, 2016 at 22:27
  • @AlanCarmack Thank you very much! I am really trying to find my way out of this mess. But consistency is precisely the problem for me right now. If I decide to not hyphenate noun/gerund constructions as nouns there is the problem of ambiguity (as with novel reading as you pointed out) or with chunks that appear hyphenated in the dictionary (as with name-dropping). Should I decide to skip the hyphen and then only keep it in special cases (like dictionary spelling)? Thank you again.
    – Sarah K
    Dec 12, 2016 at 8:19

I always thought a hyphen was used when two words were conceptually linked to become one object. Simple as that. For example "Name-dropping" is clearly a distinct thing in its own right.

I didn't think there was a particular rule on its use, it just depended on whether it made sense to demonstrate that the two words together form a new but related concept.

  • Unfortunately, as I see it, not. The Chicago Manual of Style for instance lists the rule: decision making/a decision-making body = Noun form usually open; adjective form hyphenated before a noun. There are, however, so-called permanent compounds, those compounds that can be found in the dictionary. But then again, would I have to look up every single compound to decide whether or not to hyphenate?
    – Sarah K
    Dec 1, 2016 at 14:27

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