I'm confused about how to combine an open-form compound word with a word that would normally be hyphenated. There's excellent guidance for making the open vs. closed vs. hyphenated decision, but I don't see how to apply this when hyphenating the open-form word looks wrong.

For example, make a compound word out of North, America, and based. North America is open formed and something-based is hyphenated. Is Coca-Cola a...

North America-based company: this seems very wrong as it de-emphasizes North America as a proper-noun place and makes it sound like the company is based in the North part of America (which is neither accurate nor the intent of the phrase).

North America based company: feels jolting to read and omits what seems like a necessary hyphen before "based"

North-America-based company: looks best(?), but has hyphenated the open-formed compound "North America", which unlike "well-thought-out plan" still seems wrong, despite the guidance at the linked answer above regarding phrasal adjectives*.

* the aforelinked answer says every word is hyphenated in phrasal adjectives , but for some open-form words this looks wrong

Note: I think my question could be improved with an example that looks even more egregious, but I can't think of one.

  • 3
    North America-based looks fine to me, and I even prefer it to the other forms. As I recall there is also an authoritative basis to hyphenating it this way. Unfortunately I can't recall where I found the answer to this question but I do remember I researching this exact issue some years back when I often had to write the term "fossil fuel-fired power plants".
    – Bjorn
    Dec 14, 2011 at 18:34
  • 3
    You entirely missed North-America-based-company. Egregious enough for you? :-)
    – Gnawme
    Dec 14, 2011 at 21:40
  • @Bjorn I think I like that example even better, as it avoids any complications associated with proper nouns. But I would naively read that as a plant that generates power, fueled by fire, and also fossilized.
    – Adam Wuerl
    Dec 14, 2011 at 21:54

5 Answers 5


The Chicago Manual prefers a spare hyphenation style; their guideline is "hyphenate only if doing so will aid readability". So Chicago would recommend North America based.

When I look up based in Wordnik, all of their examples where based is preceded by a proper name use the hyphen, e.g., U.S.-based, N.Y.-based, and so North America-based by extension.

However, I would share your reservations about joining America to based, and would use North America based.

The Chicago Manual notes:

Far and away the most common spelling questions for writers and editors concern compound terms—whether to spell as two words, hyphenate, or close up as a single word.

To aid your decision, they offer this handy table.

  • The readability of North America based is improved by adding some form of punctuation, as 'based' may be the past tense: there is a garden path situation. Oct 16, 2016 at 23:34
  • The Chicago Manual of Style (at least the 17th edition) addresses this specific issue, and suggests using an en dash (as per the other answer). This is in section 6.80: En dashes with compound adjectives. Your answer is talking about hyphenation in general, and doesn't pertain to this particular question. Jul 21, 2019 at 20:13
  • 1
    Sadly the Chicago Manual doesn't seem to be open-access and subscription-free, at least for me, which is why it's a good idea to reproduce material in your answer rather than just include a link.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 23, 2021 at 11:55
  • 1
    Please put the linked table here, or at least summarize it. That link is useless for SE, because it's not open to non-members.
    – Drew
    Feb 23, 2021 at 23:30

One thing some style manuals suggest in this case is to use an en-dash rather than a hyphen. So

North America–based company

rather than

North America-based company.

The longer dash signals that it shouldn't be parsed as "America-based".

  • 6
    I like this solution myself, but the tyranny of the typewriter, general ignorance of the style, and overall laziness on writer and publisher alike all work against its general acceptance and widespread recognition.
    – tchrist
    Nov 14, 2012 at 13:54
  • This doesn't seem satisfactory to me. See my answer.
    – Toothrot
    Apr 4, 2019 at 2:00
  • Peter Shor’s answer matches the recommended treatment given in The Chicago Manual of Style, sixteenth edition (2010), section 6.80: "The en dash can be used in place of a hyphen in a compound adjective when one of its elements consists of an open compound... [T]he distinction is most helpful with proper compounds, whose limits are established within the larger context by capitalization. ... [Examples:] the post–World War II years | Chuck Berry–style lyrics"
    – Sven Yargs
    Dec 20, 2023 at 18:05

Based on a cursory scan of Google Books for North America based, where their search engine ignores any punctuation marks between the words, I would guess that about 2/3rds of all relevant instances were North America-based. But I see nothing wrong with omitting the hyphen.

I didn't see a single instance of OP's doubly-hyphenated version, which looks decidely odd to me.

  • 3
    I agree. 'North America' is an integral proper noun, which cannot, I'd have thought, be split (or joined even) by a hyphen. Dec 14, 2011 at 18:35

Rewrite the sentence to avoid the problem: Coca-Cola, based in North America, makes sugared water. Coca-Cola, headquartered in North America, makes sugary water.

Or just drop "based" North America's Coca-Cola makes sugar-water.


My convention is that I hyphenate if the term modifies the following noun, so "North American-based company" is correct.

My related convention is that if the modified noun precedes the -based language, I remove the hyphen: "the company is North American based." This is consistent with the Chicago Manual recommendations.


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