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When is it necessary to use a hyphen in writing a compound word?

In my place of business, it is part of our style guide to hyphenate "vehicle-borne IED," but not hyphenate "foodborne." As the editor, I am looking for some definitive guidance on when adjectives containing "borne" are hyphenated. Any ideas?


2 Answers 2


I'm afraid that there is no definitive guidance available. Punctuation at that level is entirely a matter of local and personal style.

If your style guide doesn't have a rule for it, make up your own, if you believe that consistency is that important. You're the editor, after all.


Here's what I do: Look the "word" up in the dictionary. If it is there hyphenate it the way you find it. If it is not there then it is by definition not a word, but a two-word, compound adjective, and I hyphenate it.

  • The problem with this approach is dictionaries are always playing "catch-up" with actual usage. And in the case of hyphenation, most of the popular movement is towards discarding them. If OP actually wants foodborne to be non-hyphenated this suggests he wants to be at the "leading edge" of usage. I don't think many dictionaries would have that one - lots of them still have air-borne, for example, which strikes me as positively quaint today. Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 23:52
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    On the other hand, if OP wanted to be leading-edge then she'd hyphenate as she pleased. Since she's looking for a rule she clearly would prefer to stick with established convention.
    – Jim
    Commented Feb 29, 2012 at 2:40
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    Touché! Definitely leading-edge hyphenation there! (I missed my chance to get in first, having been saddled with a noun rather than adjectival context! :) Commented Feb 29, 2012 at 3:06

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