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I always thought "in-demand", "on-call", when used in the adjective position before a noun should be hyphenated for sheer readability if nothing else, but just checking, I see these compounds used without the hyphen:

"Coding has become one of the most in demand professional skills...".

Thoughts, anyone?

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    Relevant link: grammarly on hyphens. Rule 1 would suggest that it should be "in-demand" in your sentence.
    – Dr Xorile
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 16:56
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    You found a place where someone made a spelling mistake. The internet is full of those... Do you have any evidence that the absent hyphen is actually common and / or happens in texts by authors you would assume to have good command of English?
    – oerkelens
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 17:03
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    It is extremely common for writers to omit the hyphen in situations such as the one you describe. Sometimes the omission is intentional (because the writer thinks that a hyphen is either incorrect or unnecessary), and sometimes it is accidental (because the author omitted the punctuation mark without realizing it). Generally, style guides recommend including hyphens when the phrasing is as you describe it ("in-demand skills," "off-topic questions," "over-the-transom submissions"), but I'm sure that I've added many hundreds of hyphens to just such phrases in my many years as a copy editor.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 18:31
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    Some years ago I was reading the "in-flight" magazine and came across a reference to the "mail delivering postmen" which left me completely baffled until I realised that the vital hyphen had been omitted, and it should have read "mail-delivering postmen". Good grammar strives to eliminate ambiguity, so the hyphen is essential in these cases. Sometimes the two words previously hyphenated become elided, so we get "tasks that are done every day" or "everyday tasks".
    – Nicole
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 19:03
  • The hyphenated adjective phrase before a noun (like in-demand in your example) seems to be a very well-kept secret. I've overhead conversations in which one or more people were absolutely sure no hyphen was needed in such cases.
    – C.S.
    Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 17:00

1 Answer 1

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As I noted in a comment posted beneath the question almost six years ago, it is extremely common for writers to omit the hyphen in situations such as "Cooling has become one of the most in demand professional skills. Their reasons for doing so range from accidental omission to a belief that the hyphen is unnecessary.

Because no one has attempted to answer this question after all these years, I thought it might be worthwhile to review the advice that various style guides give for handling preposition + noun compound modifiers when the modifier is positioned before the noun it modifies.

Bryan Garner, Garner's American Modern Usage, third edition (2009) addresses this issue in broad strokes in his entry for phrasal adjectives:

PHRASAL ADJECTIVES. A. General Rule. When a phrase functions as an adjective preceding the noun it modifies—an increasingly frequent phenomenon in 20th- and 21st-century English—the phrase should ordinarily be hyphenated. Hence the soup is burning hot becomes the burning-hot soup; the child is six years old becomes the six-year-old child. Most professional writers know this; most nonprofessionals don't.

[Relevant example involving a preposition + noun phrasal adjective:] for-profit firms

The Chicago Manual of Style, sixteenth edition (2010) provides a hyphenation guide (in tabular form) for compounds at 7.85. The relevant coverage appears part in the "phrases, adjectival" subsection of the "Compounds According to Parts of Speech" section:

[Relevant examples:] an over-the-counter drug | an up-to-date solution

[but] sold over the counter | his equipment was up to date

Chicago also notes (at 7.79) that preposition + noun compounds sometimes end up as closed-up single words:

7.79 The trend toward closed compounds. With frequent use, open or hyphenated compounds tend to become closed (on line to on-line to online).

This tendency is rather more complicated than Chicago seems to suggest. For example, I have seen very little movement in print publications from up-to-date to uptodate despite the term's incontestably frequent use and widespread familiarity. In any case, in the "on" subsection of the "Compounds Formed with Specific Terms" section of the 7.85 hyphenation guide, Chicago lists the following preferred forms:

online | onstage | ongoing | on-screen | on-site

The last two examples provide further support for hyphenating preposition + noun modifiers, although in this case they seem to go a bit farther and support the hyphenated form regardless of whether the compound term appears before or after (or independent of) a noun. Tangentially I note that onsite frequently appears as a single word with no hyphen these days, vindicating Chicago's "trend toward closing compounds" thesis in that case anyway.

Like Chicago, The Oxford Guide to Style (2002) doesn't distinguish between preposition + noun compound modifiers and other types of compound modifiers. Still, the rule it lays down at 5.10.1 ("Compound words") is broad and simple:

Hyphenate two or more modifiers preceding the noun when they form a unit modifying the noun:

[relevant example involving a unitary prepositional phrase:] the up-to-date records

Oxford then goes on to carve out exceptions to its simple rule for modifiers to deal with cases involving foreign phrases, adverbs ending in -ly, capitalized words, and scientific terms, and other special situations—but none of these bears directly on how to handle simple English preposition + noun compound modifiers.


Syntactically, as far as I can tell, "in-demand" and "on-call" are just simpler constructions of the same basic form as of "up-to-date"—they are compound modifiers consisting of preposition[s] + noun. The prevailing convention in both U.S. and British publishing seems to be to hyphenate this type of phrase when it appears in front of the noun it modifies. Whether Garner is correct that this rule is something that most professional writers know and most nonprofessionals don't, I can assure you that many professional writers do not consistently abide by the rule in the manuscripts that they submit for editing.

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  • This will end in tears. Yes it's a good answer to the question, but I would translate the poster's example into English: "Coding has become one of the professional skills that is in most demand…". And with one leap you are free!
    – David
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 18:17
  • @Laurel and FumbleFingers: Thank you for helping the de facto fumblefingers (me) with your corrections of the unfortunate typos and brainos contained in the original version of my answer.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 22:47

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