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What's the correct way to put a prefix in front of something that's 2 or more words?

Pre-Neolithic Revolution or pre-Neolithic-Revolution

Pro-affirmative action or pro-affirmative-action

Post-Civil War or post-Civil-War

Non-high school or non-high-school (student)

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With a single hyphen, you have an adjective and a noun. When you hyphenate throughout, the multiply-hyphenated term is an adjective.

To use one of your examples:

  • a post-civil war is a war (noun) that is no longer (‘post’) civil (adjective); whereas
  • a post-civil-war landscape is a landscape following a civil war.

In these constructions, the words in the hyphenated compound modify each other. For example, post” modifies “civil war”, and “civil” modifies “war”.

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    I've been unable to find any authoritative guidance on this, but my instinct would be to use post-Civil War etc. Surely no-one would interpret that as meaning 'a war that is no longer civil'? Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 9:17
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    Yes, context can help disambiguate, but the principle holds.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 14:32

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