An eye-glazingly, mind-numbingly boring debate is raging on usmessageboard.com over hyphenation. One user posted

full-throttle, out-of-the-gate, naked attempt by the press

to which another user responded

Has any other POTUS " out-of-the-gate" [sic] preceded and commenced their presidency

which the first user took as an attack on his grammar, and, well, the to-hyphenate-or-not-to-hyphenate debate has raged ever since.

In an attempt to restore the tranquility of the board and its usual civil tone, I offered to submit an appeal for arbitration here.

The question mentioned of which mine may be a duplicate does indeed answer many of the points raised in the battle raging elsewhere, but doesn't address others, which I will try to list below. Nor does it cover the [sic] aspect of our controversy. I realize the question could be split into two separate questions, but that would reduce the chance our community would receive the fairest possible judgment from our community.

And that brings up the objection below to the appeal for arbitration. I imagine there are any number of reasons someone might post a question here. Some, I suppose, are composing an email at work their boss will see, and they want to be as precise as possible so that they make a good impression. Others may be working on a thesis they are going to present and want to be sure of their lingual footing during the orals. Another might be composing a letter to a cheating lover and she wants to express her broken heart in a crystal clear voice free of any quaver an ungrammatical sentence would give it. We neither ask them the reason, nor sanction them if they offer the reason.

I offered the reason because I thought it was a light-hearted and inoffensive addition to my question without detracting from it.

The aspects of this question that weren't addressed in the other's answer, thorough as it was:

  1. Since hyphenation is to be used to form a compound word immediately preceding a noun, out-of-the-gate should not have been hyphenated because of the interposition of the word "naked" between the adjectival phrase and the modified noun, "attempt". The OP responded that the stack of adjectives all qualified as immediately preceding the noun;
  2. The temporal quality of "out of the gate" made it adverbial and thus undeserving of a hyphen. In response, the OP maintained "out-of-the-gate" was indeed adjectival;
  3. The [sic] was not a criticism of the OP's grammar, but a defense against the possibility the OP's mistake would be imputed to the respondent.

So there you have it. Was this a mistake?

full-throttle, out-of-the-gate, naked attempt by the press

  • 1
    Instead of giving us the history of a debate on a discussion forum elsewhere, could you please formulate a clear question for this English Language question and answer site. This is not an arbitration tribunal. If you formulate a decent question you may get some decent answers, the merits of which you and your friends can judge for themselves. For the moment I am voting to close your question as unclear what you are asking.
    – David
    Jul 26, 2017 at 22:48
  • 4
    Hi! Rules of hyphenation are a great subject for this site. But I think your question will probably be answered (and quite competently so) by John Hanna's answer here: When to use a hyphen to coin a new word and when to omit a hyphen? If that doesn't answer your question, could you perhaps edit it to clarify exactly what you're asking? Jul 26, 2017 at 22:51
  • 1
    While the new sentence is better without the hyphens, the writer has a right to quote verbatim, hyphens and all. What I don't get is preceded instead of any other preceding POTUS. Jul 26, 2017 at 22:54
  • 2
    I agree re: clarifying the question and I enjoyed the OP's wry wit. Jul 26, 2017 at 23:27
  • 1
    “Since hyphenation is to be used to form a compound word immediately preceding a noun” — Where are you getting this from? It’s not true, and never has been. Hyphens are frequently used in certain types of compounds when they’re used attributively (as opposed to predicatively). Whether or not anything comes between the compound and what they modify is irrelevant. Jul 27, 2017 at 11:38

2 Answers 2


He gave a full throttle performance.

Did he give a full performance of a throttle; or did he give a performance that was full throttle?

He gave a full-throttle performance

Now it's clear which one is meant.

Especially on this site, you often see [block parentheses] to denote how a sentence should be parsed. E.g.

He gave a [full throttle] performance.

However, these parentheses are only accepted when analyzing the sentence structure, not in normal communication.

This phenomenon of hyphenation-for-clarity does seem to be accepted in normal communication; and its intention is the same: to assist the reader with correctly parsing the sentence.

Logically speaking, they are therefore only really necessary in cases where there is ambiguity. If there is no ambiguity, they are not necessary (from a functional perspective at least. From a grammatical perspective, they may always be required so that the usage remains consistent).

  • How about from a stylistic perspective? Can it be argued that the hyphens add a certain panache to the writing?
    – CWill
    Jul 27, 2017 at 11:37
  • @CWill: In my opinion, not really. The hyphens are added for clarity, not style. However, you can argue that choosing to use long-winded descriptions (which require hyphenation) is a stylistic choice. But that is different from why the hyphens are warranted.
    – Flater
    Jul 27, 2017 at 11:47

FWIW, I am the person who wrote the sentence containing the "[sic]." CWill accurately expressed my reason for doing so.

The complete sentence CWill wrote is: "There has never been a full-throttle, out-of-the-gate, naked attempt by the press to bring down a president like we are witnessing here."

In my response to him, among other things, I wrote: "Has any other POTUS 'out-of-the-gate' [sic] preceded and commenced their presidency with the nature and extent of utter BS Trump has?"

I included "[sic]" because of the following:

  • "Out of the box" is an accepted idiom that is classified as an adverbial prepositional phrase; thus it does not need hyphenation.
  • To give "out of of the box" the linguistic function of an adjectival prepositional phrase in a sentence, one must hyphenate it; however, in doing so, one also must place it immediately before the noun/pronoun it modifies. The reason one must so place the adjectival variant of the phrase derives from adverbs being appropriately placed either before and after the words they modify, whereas adjectives customarily, though not universally, precede the words they modify. As far as I know, one should adhere to same sequencing convention for adjectival and adverbial phrases as that of simple adjectives and adverbs. Similarly, readers are expected to use the same convention for comprehending what they read.

The fact that I included "[sic]" is what bothered CWill. The discussion about idioms, adjectival and adverbial phrases, along with my not wanting readers to construe that I'd hyphenated "out of the box," is what I shared with CWill as my reasons for writing "[sic]."

The specific question of grammar/spelling is whether hyphenating "out of the box" in CWill's original sentence is correct. Obviously, insofar as I used "sic" when I quoted his phrase, I think it is not.

  • 1
    The hyphenations were fine: "a full-throttle, out-of-the-gate, naked attempt". Compare that to: "a full-throttle, out of the gate, naked attempt". The latter is a mistake. It has to come before the noun, but who says it must immediately precede it? Yours could have been: "Has any other POTUS preceded and commenced their presidency "out of the gate" with the nature and extent of utter BS Trump has?" No hyphens, and correctly placed in your sentence. No need to sic it at all. Just use quotes to show where it came from.
    – Lambie
    Jul 27, 2017 at 16:11
  • FYI: stackexchange is not a forum and answers are not "posts."
    – Yorik
    Jul 27, 2017 at 18:27
  • @Cascabel: What is the purpose of the Not an Answer flag? To identify attempts by community members to use answers for any purpose other than answering questions.( meta.stackexchange.com/questions/185073 )
    – Yorik
    Jul 27, 2017 at 19:10
  • @Yorik I was only taking exception to the phrase "answers are not "posts" .It could be mis-interpreted. The word "post" is used quite liberally throughout SE. Jul 27, 2017 at 19:15
  • 1
    Apologies, Cascabel
    – Xelor
    Jul 27, 2017 at 23:47

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