In a document (written by a native Japanese speaker), I see the following phrase that sets off my acceptability and grammaticality alarms:

a food-hygienically acceptable substance

Google shows only 130 or so hits for:

food-hygienically acceptable

some of which are like for:

keep the food hygienically acceptable

Which is fine.

But the others are all translated from Japanese, which makes me suspicious.

So my questions to other native speakers are:

  1. Is the syntax of "a food-hygienically acceptable substance" grammatical? I can’t seem to extrapolate to other such A+NOUN+HYPHEN+LY ADVERB+NOUN phrases to test it.

  2. Is there any more natural way to express this, such as:

Left-side modification:

a food-hygiene-acceptable substance

More grammatical, but still awkward.

Right-side modification:

a substance acceptable in terms of food hygiene

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"food-hygienically" is a compound adverb, which functions like a regular adverb. Sources say that they can be written as a single word (e.g. "overnight"), hyphenated ("in-house", "self-consciously"), or as multiple words ("early on", "upside down") - (sources: ThoughtCo, Capstone Editing [Australia]). A phrase such as "self-evidently stupid idea" or even "brain-meltingly stupid idea" has a similar structure but would be uncontroversial.

So grammatically it's ok, but elegance and easy comprehensibility are different things. It's fairly unambiguous what is meant, but it's perhaps not instantly comprehensible: the compound adverb "food-hygienically" is not common and requires thought to consider the relation of the two halves. Personally, I'd prefer something more explicit and without the long sequence of words jammed together, such as "a substance acceptable under food hygiene regulations". If the context is unambiguous, you could realistically drop the word "food" and say a "hygienically acceptable substance".

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  • 1
    I don’t think it’s unambiguous at all what it means – in fact, I don’t understand what it’s supposed to mean at all. How does one do something in a food-hygienic way? What is ‘food-hygienic’ even supposed to mean? As a compound, it’s nonsensical to me; it certainly doesn’t work as an adjectival form to food hygiene. Since that seems to be what it’s most likely intended to mean, I’d rephrase as per the right-side modification option in the question. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 28 '18 at 16:35
  • "Food-hygeinically acceptable" is not something a native English speaker would ever write. I think your answer should have made this clear. – TonyK Aug 25 '19 at 19:20
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I read it as referring to a cleaning or disinfecting substance which can be used on surfaces or containers used for food, as opposed to surfaces which are not used for food. An example might be sodium metabisulfite rather than, say, formaldehyde. – BoldBen Aug 26 '19 at 0:51

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