When two words are hyphenated do they always become one word? Or does it depend on why you use the hyphen?

For example 'four-wheeled carts'. Has 'four' become a prefix or is the purpose of the hyphen to simply imply the relationship between the two words?


  • The hyphen in four-wheeled attach the two together so that each cart is understood to have four wheels, rather than the possibility that there are four carts that are wheeled.
    – Xanne
    May 31, 2017 at 8:10
  • I hope we will simply see four as modifying wheeled and not call it a prefix, otherwise we will get an avalanche of questions like "how can noun be used as a prefix when the dictionary doesn't mention that use?", much like we now get that same question about noun being used as an adjective because of attributive use.
    – oerkelens
    May 31, 2017 at 8:22
  • Some linguists regard open compounds such as 'ink well' as single words. And everybody would describe 'ink well' as a compound noun (when it is being used as one). May 31, 2017 at 8:27
  • oerkelens I hoped so but sadly I've now found examples of a compound adjective (e.g. 6-page document) which leads one to think of the number as a prefix of the compound adjective. The problem I have is that if there was no risk of confusion with readability then you wouldn't need the hyphen and then you'd have two words.
    – flyeogh
    May 31, 2017 at 10:51

1 Answer 1


No. Hyphenating two adjectives creates a compound adjective, composed of two distinct words, connected by a hyphen for clarity.

From wikipedia:

A compound modifier (also called a compound adjective, phrasal adjective, or adjectival phrase) is a compound of two or more attributive words: That is, more than one word that together modify a noun.

  • Many thanks Davo. It was what I wanted to hear but regardless I appreciate your time and the reference, Cheers
    – flyeogh
    May 31, 2017 at 19:55

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