As I understand it (please correct me if I'm wrong): "Spanish" is a proper noun and therefore must be capitalized; "Spanish-language" in this case is a compound adjective and those are usually hyphenated.

I found some style guides claiming that a compound adjective formed from a proper noun must not be hyphenated. But in those guides, I could only see examples forming compound adjectives from two proper nouns (e.g. given name and surname) — not one proper and one common noun as in "Spanish-language".

But when searching for examples of how "Some-language" is spelled, most people seem to spell it with a hyphen (some even capitalize "Language").

So, which is it?

  • This question will be moved to ELL, by a mod. Why not say: movie in Spanish? Why bother with the word language here? Spanish-language websites. Very ambiguous but with dashes definitely.
    – Lambie
    Jan 13, 2022 at 23:12
  • @Lambie because I'm interested in this specific case. I can always rephrase it to avoid any ambiguity, but that's not the point of posting the question here. And frankly, I'm not exactly learning English anymore. There seems to be some uncertainty about this question even among native speakers.
    – Mathis
    Jan 13, 2022 at 23:19
  • 1
    OK, here is the issue. No matter how you put, with or without dashes, it will be ambiguous. Spanish language movie can be either: A movie in Spanish OR a movie about Spanish. That's the rub. Americans seem to love saying things like: Spanish language movies when they only speak English. I have no idea why. (I am American but tend to avoid that kind of conundrum.) I hope that clarifies this for you. :)
    – Lambie
    Jan 13, 2022 at 23:23
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    "I found some style guides claiming that a compound adjective formed from a proper noun must not be hyphenated." Who said that? It seems unlikely: you'll see hyphenated forms like "Chinese-style recipe" a lot, even in bastions of high style like the New York Times. Unless you are presented with one of these style guides and instructed to follow it, ignore this vague rumor.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 13, 2022 at 23:42

1 Answer 1


As ever, punctuation should only be used in accordance with convention or, in cases like these, where it serves to improve comprehension. The lack of a hyphen lends ambiguity in that it might be either a spanish movie about language, or a movie where the dialogue is in spanish. In helping to make it less ambiguous the hyphen can only serve to help. That said, I would definitely favour a re-write; but that has already been discussed.

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