In the following sentence:

We are confident we can carve out a comfortable portion of the market.

Is carve out without a hyphen the only correct way of writing it? Or can it also be written as:

We are confident we can carve-out a comfortable portion of the market.

I'm asking because I feel that, in context, the second example reads more easily, but that generally the hyphenation of carve out (specifically) would be reserved for its usage as a noun, and not an action.

I am under the impression that hyphenated actions — where used to avoid confusion, or improve readability — are merited in terms of artistic license.


1 Answer 1


Please, let the particles roam free!

Phrasal verbs (here "to carve out") never, ever take hyphens. That's not a matter of artistic license, but rather the rules of English grammar.

A hyphen binds two words together to form a single indivisible unit in a sentence, but in English, phrasal verbs are not single, indivisible units. The second particle word (the preposition) is allowed to move to a position after its object, as below:

  1. We carved out a portion of the market for ourselves
  2. We carved a portion of the market out for ourselves

Movement of the particle to after the object often happens when you use a pronoun as the object:

  1. There was a portion of the market available, so we carved it out
  2. It was a tricky move, but he was able to pull it off.

... and for some verbs, it's the only commonly-used form:

  1. She had a blue dress on. ("to have on", meaning "to wear")

(An aside: I once read a translation of a novel where the translator consistently wrote number 5 as "She had on a raincoat", and it made me stop every time to ask myself: "She had what on a raincoat?" - I think that it's used in some American dialects, but I wouldn't consider it standard English)

If you try to "stick together" the two parts of a phrasal verb with a hyphen, you suggest that this movement cannot occur. You also make it harder to distinguish between the existing use of hyphenated groups that use the same words as the phrasal verb and the verb itself: compare the noun "they had a fine set-up" against the verb: "they set up the equipment".

  • Stupid me. Thanks for catching that. Answer Edited
    – KrisW
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 22:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.