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I am writing an article about continuum mechanics and I would like to understand how to use hyphenation correctly. In continuum mechanics, you have objects called tensors (which are generalizations of vectors and matrices). E.g., we say that $a_{i}$ is a first-order tensor, while $a_{ijk}$ is a third-order tensor (the dollar signs are use in TeX for math stuff). Refer now to the order of a tensor through the symbol $r$, i.e., $r = 1$ holds for $a_{i}$ and $r = 3$ for $a_{ijk}$. In my article I have passages mainly based on the following 2 examples:

(1) The evaluation of such averages might be cumbersome, if the tensor order is high.

(2) Functions only up to tensor order $r$ need to be considered in the corresponding integrals.

Question: when do I need to use hyphenation? In (1) "tensor" describes "order" and my guts tell me, NOT to rewrite (1) as follows, although I use "tensor order" very often in my article:

(1A) The evaluation of such averages might be cumbersome, if the tensor-order is high.

For (2), "tensor order" describes the symbol "$r$", such that I am not sure if I should use "tensor-order" in (2),

(2A) Functions only up to tensor-order $r$ need to be considered in the corresponding integrals.

but also in (1) in the whole article. I am inclined to use "tensor-order" throughout the article for consistency, but I do not know if that would be correct. If this question rather belongs to math (due to the technical language), then please let me know and I will delete my question and ask it in https://math.stackexchange.com/ .

  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because no research is provided. Wikipedia, for instance, uses the unhyphenated form. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 12 '19 at 14:22
  • I know taht. But a reviewer for my article explicitly told me to rather use the hyphenated version in (2). – Mauricio Fernández Oct 12 '19 at 14:40
  • You should be discussing this with your reviewer. If you know that Wikipedia has a different view from the one they do, as you obviously have one-to-one contact ('explicitly told'), why didn't you mention this to them? Hyphen usage is not so much tradition-driven nowadays as need-driven. Hyphens are considered clutter and only used to clarify in novel strong collocations / compounds. Wikipedia obviously doesn't consider the open version problematic. Perhaps your reviewer has met contexts where it is. But what do you expect from those at a distance from the problem (here on ELU, or on Math)? – Edwin Ashworth Oct 12 '19 at 14:50
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Grammarly has a brief article describing the use of hyphens in English. In part, it says the following:

Hyphen with Compound Modifiers: Two-Word Adjectives Before Nouns

A compound modifier is made up of two words that work together to function like one adjective. When you connect words with the hyphen, you make it clear to readers that the words work together as a unit of meaning.

If your reviewer is following this or similar advice, then your examples (1) and (2A) are correct:

(1) The evaluation of such averages might be cumbersome, if the tensor order is high.

(2A) Functions only up to tensor-order $r$ need to be considered in the corresponding integrals.

(There is no need to hyphenate "tensor-order" consistently throughout your article for this to work.)

Despite these guidelines, I had no difficulty understanding your initial example without the hyphen, and as a general (non-technical) editor I would not have imposed this "correction."

  • Thank you very much for the informative answer and perspective as an editor. – Mauricio Fernández Oct 12 '19 at 22:13
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For clarity I would also consider re-ordering and making the sentence more 'Active Voice':

(1) If the tensor order is high the evaluation of such averages might be cumbersome.

(2A) In the corresponding integrals you only need to consider Functions up to tensor order $r$.

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Un-hyphenated.

You would use a hyphen to join two or more words when they come before a noun they modify and act as a single idea, i.e.: off-campus, un-hyphenate... You are placing he noun first so does not apply here. I don't think 'Order-tensor' is correct in your usage either, but it would be hyphenated!

See: https://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/hyphens.asp

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