I'd like to know the reason for the punctuation of the noun "brush-off" and the verb "to brush off": they have related meanings, but "brush-off" is the result of "to brush off", essentially. But one cannot write "to brush-off" as that just looks weird, as it is used for the noun version.

So the question, is the hyphen often used like this in English to differentiate a derived noun from a verb?

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    Yes, it does. One can receive a brush-off when requesting a turn-down service at an up-market hotel near the turn-off. One might even feel put-off by the experience.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 16:33
  • I don't think there is a verb "up-market".
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 18:03
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    Related: “Sign in”, “signin” or “sign-in”, Topup vs top-up
    – herisson
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 22:15
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    This is about nouns from phrasal verbs, not verbs from noun phrases, where the hyphenation scheme is reversed.
    – KarlG
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 22:44

1 Answer 1


The punctuation mark you're talking about is a hyphen, not a dash, but either would be out of place in phrasal verbs like brush off, where in some meanings, the phrase will divide:

Sarah can't stand Mark, so she brushed him off at the party.

The noun derived from this verb is written with a hyphen: brush-off, but often a word may become so entrenched in the language that the hyphen disappears and the two elements are joined into one compound word. Callback, for instance, is rapidly overtaking the hyphenated form call-back.

  • Sorry, hyphen. In programming I only hear "dash". Also in programming I only ever saw "callback". Unless it's "call me back" or something like that. Is there a rule about this usage of the hyphen?
    – greduan
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 22:12
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    The general preference is for the use of a hyphen, but as I've explained, it's a dynamic process where some words move toward a compound without one. People have been giving each other the brush-off since the 1950s, so chances are good the hyphen is here to stay. You can always check a dictionary in each case, or, as with learning any language, copy the usage of those you want or need to impress.
    – KarlG
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 22:19
  • See also english.stackexchange.com/questions/435328/… Also, in programming the hyphen probably doesn't show up because most languages don't allow hyphens inside identifiers or keywords (to avoid conflict with subtraction).
    – TextGeek
    Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 15:17

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