I am editing the closed-captioning of a video for the admissions department at the college where I work. In the video, a student says, "Only at X Learning Academy, will you be hands on from the first day."

I am wondering if "hands on" should be hyphenated in this particular sentence. My confusion stems from the fact that I'm not certain what part of speech "hands on" is in that sentence. Is it an adjective modifying "you" or is it an adverb modifying "will be"?

I have looked in the archive here and in the dictionary, and I did a google search, but I have not found a rule for hyphenating this particular usage of hands on/hands-on. If that is not enough due diligence, I apologize for this post. Yet I would, nevertheless, appreciate your thoughts. Thank you.

Which seems correct?

  1. Only at X Learning Academy, will you be hands on from the first day.
  2. Only at X Learning Academy, will you be hands-on from the first day.
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  • I've only found the hyphenated version in dictionaries (M-W, Collins, Longman, Oxford), but they only give prenominal examples (Longman and OALD add the caveat 'usually before the noun') where the hyphenated form is usual. Possibly the compound adjective is considered novel/informal enough to maintain the hyphen even where used predicatively. // Grammar.com considers the open form unacceptable. Commented Jun 11 at 16:03

1 Answer 1

  • Both OALD and Longman add the caveat that the compound adjective is used mainly before a noun.
  • The above dictionaries, together with Merriam-Webster and Collins, do not include the open form as a legitimate variant. But they only include examples containing pre-nominal uses, where the hyphenated form is usually required even though predicative usage normally uses the open form.
  • However, the hyphen is often retained even in predicative uses where the compound (some would argue phrase) is considered novel or quite informal.
  • There is divided usage among examples using << hands[-]on >> in predicates. I'd say that the hyphenated form is more usual here, but there are exceptions in sentences provided by estimable institutions:

[Google search for "will be hands on"]:

Summing up: the hyphenated form should be used before a noun, and is the more commonly used form used predicatively (though this is not mandatory, despite the claim made at Grammar.com).

  • 1
    Thank you for this helpful and thorough reply :) Commented Jun 11 at 18:54

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