What are the differences between:

  1. All-day lunch
  2. All day lunch

for example:

all-day lunch from 12.00-18.00

The dictionary say all-day means available throughout the day, but is the hyphen necessary?

  • 2
    what does looking all-day up in a dictionary tell you? What context are you using the phrases in? Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 12:24
  • it is "all-day lunch from 12.00-18.00". The dictionary said all-day means available throughout the day. But is the hyphen necessary?
    – andydraif
    Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 13:20
  • The hyphen is preferred in this type of construction. But in this case, there is no other likely meaning when it is omitted, so there would be no harm in leaving it out. I'll think of some others...
    – GEdgar
    Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 14:07
  • 2
    A long-train track is a track for long trains, but a long train track is a long track for trains. In all day lunch, I see no sense in a day lunch which is all, so you would interpret it as all-day lunch even without the hyphen.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 14:08

2 Answers 2


When an adjective is used to modify another adjective rather than directly modify the noun, we hyphenate the two words. If two adjectives both modify the same noun, we normally separate them with a comma.

For example, "a hot, dry day" is a day that is both hot and dry.

A "hot-water container" is a container for hot water. It is not the container that is hot, but the water.

A "hot water container" would literally mean a "water container" that is hot, i.e. the container is hot, not necessarily the water. Sometimes to avoid confusion in such cases we hyphenate "water-container", but that's not required.

Of course if you wrote "a hot dry day", people would know what you meant even if it's technically incorrect. I know I've heard examples where it is really ambiguous and confusing without either a hyphen or comma, but I can't think of one at the moment. :-(

In your example, the lunch lasts all day, so you should write "an all-day lunch". If you had something called a "day lunch", it might make sense to talk about an "all day lunch" as "a day lunch for all". As opposed to a "night lunch" to which only some people were invited, I suppose. As this makes little sense, you get away with leaving out the hyphen, because people know what you meant. It's still technically wrong though. Just like if you say "I gived it to Bob", we know what you meant even though there is no such word as "gived".

  • It has nothing to do with "lunch lasts all day" -- indeed, lunch is only from 12:00 to 18:00 -- but means that lunch is available all days of the week. Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 16:36
  • @jwpat7: I would call that a "daily lunch" or maybe an "every-day lunch". (Though "everyday" is an idiom for "ordinary", as in, "Today we had a gourmet lunch. Yesterday we just had an everyday lunch." When we say an "all-day event", we mean that the event lasts the entire day, not that it happens on all days of the week.
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 19:04
  • @jwpat7. It doesn't exactly mean that lunch lasts all day. What it (and the more common, in my experience, phrase "all-day breakfast") means is that the lunch menu (or the breakfast menu) is available throughout the day, not just at specific times of day. A café nearby takes the breakfast menus off the tables toward midday, but will still serve meals from the breakfast menu if asked.
    – TRiG
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 15:00
  • When I go to an all-you-can-eat buffet, sometimes my lunches do last all day.
    – Jay
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 15:50

You can connect words in a phrase freely to preserve meaning and facilitate the reader.

For example: "a go-out-and-get-doing approach needed" - here the whole phrase "go out and get doing" acts as an adjective to the noun approach; if you leave out the hyphens a reader would have to maybe read it twice to three times to get what you exactly meant.

I think you can use both "all-day" and "all day", but as in the case with "go out and get doing" "all day" in your case acts as an adjective and since in the dictionary there's "all-day" adjective listed - I'd say is better to use that one.

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