In the following sentence, what is the correct use of hyphens?

Should it be:

A red and blue-coloured kingfisher.


A red-and-blue-coloured kingfisher.

Please assume that the 'coloured' is a necessity, i.e. I can't shorten to 'red and blue kingfisher'.

I know that if there were only one colour I should hypenate, i.e. red-coloured kingfisher'.

Fumble Fingers made the excellent suggestion to negate the problem by reordering the words to 'a kingfisher coloured red and blue', but I'm looking for the correct use of hyphenation with the words in the order above.

  • 3
    Save yourself the trouble (whether and however you include hyphens, someone will say it's either clumsy or wrong) by putting the adjectival component after the noun (where no-one would expect any hyphens: a kingfisher coloured red and blue. Aug 28 '17 at 15:57
  • Thanks for the excellent suggestion. Unfortunately this isn't my copy - I am just setting it in type, so I cannot change the order of words. Aug 28 '17 at 17:18
  • 4
    That is an occasion for a hanging hyphen: A red- and blue-colored kingfisher. See Can a hyphen be used without anything on the right side? on this site. Aug 28 '17 at 17:27
  • 8
    I would draw a distinction between "red- and blue-coloured kingfishers" (some are red, some blue) and "red-and-blue-coloured kingfishers" (they are all a combination of red and blue). (The former could also be called "red and blue kingfishers", while the latter are "red-and-blue kingfishers".) Since this is a single kingfisher that is clearly both red and blue, I would prefer "red-and-blue-coloured kingfisher" (although I am not sure that this means anything different from "red-and-blue kingfisher").
    – rjpond
    Aug 28 '17 at 17:33
  • Uh… Pedr, if you can't change the order of words, why are you asking how to change the hyphenation, please? What's wrong needs to be changed and if the writer or editor doesn't understand that, why is he paying money for you to raise a pointless argument? Combining FumbleFingers and rjpond's points, d'you see you have either a kingfisher coloured red and blue or kingfishers coloured red or blue or some combination of those? Either way A red and blue-coloured kingfisher cuts no mustard… Aug 30 '17 at 19:47

Because red and blue colored is the adjectival phrase, it should be hyphenated as a compound modifier: "red-and-blue-colored kingfisher"

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