Working on a scientific paper I stumble over the use of common abbreviations for chemical elements (e.g. C, N or P for carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus) in combination with other nouns or adjectives. Should I use hyphens for this and if so, where and why?

For example, would it be: "The N fertilization caused..." or "The N-fertilization caused..."?

And am I studying an "N-fertilized site" or an "N fertilized site"?

Searching through other literature from my field has resulted in somehow mixed results, however writing without hyphens in the first case and with hyphen in the second seemed more common to me.

As a foreign speaker I'm also glad for all redirections on grammar rules for this, googling this special case did not help me yet.

  • If you're submitting a scientific paper, there will be style guides (probably even IUPAC regulations) giving direction on this. Rules tend to be standard only within domains. There was a time when pupils taking national exams in the UK would lose a mark for the spelling 'sulphur' in a science exam but lose one for the spelling 'sulfur' in the corresponding English exam. Oct 10, 2017 at 16:25

1 Answer 1


As a Chemist myself, I would prefer to quote the whole element, for the sake of clarity, and leave out the unnecessary hyphen.

The nitrogen fertilisation resulted in . . . .

As you say, the literature is not helpful in this kind of area and one has to do as one sees fit.

Alternatively, for brevity, it would be quite correct to write . .

The N fertilisation resulted in . . . .

  • Thank you for your opinion on this Nigel J! I would also prefer not to use hyphens but cannot go for the complete element names because the two elements I studied (in an ecosystem) appear very frequently in the text. Thus my above question refers in fact to many more cases than the examples I stated.
    – Syrafina
    Oct 10, 2017 at 10:37
  • @Syrafina edited for you. Is that comfortable ?
    – Nigel J
    Oct 10, 2017 at 10:39

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