Hyphen grammar question

Quick question. Should that hyphen be in this or not?

“St. Louis-bound?” as in “is he St. Louis-bound?”

Or should it be “St. Louis bound?”


I don’t think I would feel any temptation to put a hyphen there.

Yes hyphen.

Whether to use a hyphen depends on your style guide. Many such guides state that adjectives used predicatively don’t take a hyphen, whereas those useh attributively do. So it would be “The train is St. Louis bound.” but “I got on the St. Louis-bound train.”

And typographically speaking, it’s common to use an en dash in place of a hyphen for noun-noun compounds where one or both of the nouns is multiple words. (For some reason, though, the board software here converts en dashes to hyphens.) Of course, thanks to word processors, typography is a dying art, so this practice is probably dying out.

I think it has less to do with typography, and more to do with there not being an easy way to type an en-dash. You’ll note that the em dash is still somewhat popular–that’s because a lot of software will replace two hyphens in a row with an em-dash. I am not aware of any such easy way to make an en-dash.

I think it’s time to admit that hyphens and en dashes have converged.

No easy way in a word processor. In typesetting (both manual and digital) it has long been easy to insert en dashes.

On a Mac, it’s just option-hyphen. On PC, alt-0150. Not as easy as a dedicated key, but easy enough that I use them and remember the keystrokes on both platforms.

I use hopefully as an adverb. I end sentences with prepositions. I split infinitives. I think “they” should be acceptable as the third person singular indefinite pronoun. I even think apostrophes should be abolished.

But this? No! Not now, not ever! You can kill me, but you can’t take the en-dash off the dates on my tombstone!

ETA: Ok, technically that’ll be a figure dash, but even I’m not that pedantic!

It’s been ok since ~1994 or so, at least if the style manual is APA.

Hell, by my lights it’s been okay since Chaucer.

I love en-dashes, but would gladly lose the ugly em-dash.

In WordPerfect, if you type two hyphens followed by a space they are automatically converted to an en-dash (three hyphens followed by a space will make an em-dash). You can delete the extra space if you don’t want it. MS Word has a similar system for creating them which is a bit too complex to be worth explaining here, but not much more complex to actually use.

As for the original question, I think I basically accept the rule given by psychonaut, but I would add that using a hyphen is particularly to be avoided with two-part names like “St. Louis,” because it gives the appearance that Louis is tied to bound more tightly than it is tied to St., which is quite wrong, of course.

I think the period in “St.” serves to tie it to “Louis,” actually.

Or–if you can’t remember the ANSI number–with MS-Word (Windows) you just go to “insert”, choose “symbols,” choose “more symbols,” and then choose “special characters.”

That’s isn’t an “easy way,” but then it isn’t a hard one for the kind of person who is actually going to care about it, considering how rare it is that you really need one.

In MS Word (on a PC):
En dash = Ctrl+minus symbol
** Em dash = Alt+Ctrl+minus symbol**
(This is the minus symbol on the numeric keypad of a keyboard, not the hyphen key next to the += key.) On my laptop, it works with the minus symbol which is an alternate function on the colon key when used with the fn key.

:dubious: If anything it separates it, moving it further away. Instead of being separated just by a space, the words are separated by a space and a period. Of course, the words (or word-fragments, or whatever St. is properly called) are tightly tied semantically, but I am talking about what is suggested by the visual layout of the punctuation. I do not think it is a problem in normal uses of names like St. Louis, but once you join Louis to something else, with a hyphen, the St. starts to look as though it is floating free.

It isn’t really a grammar question, but a writing style one. And styles change over time. With hyphens, the progression is from 2 (or more) separate words to 2 words connected with a hyphen to a combined word without any hyphen.

Thus English moved from “to the morrow”(1700’s) to “to-morrow” (1800’s) to “tomorrow” (1900’s & beyond). Or “cellular telephone” to “cell-phone” to “cellphone” to “cell”. Sometimes words stop partly along the way, and using them with a hyphen becomes the proper style.

You can see words moving along this progression, and often questions are raised about words that are in flux. For example, do you use “e-mail” or “email” in writing? (The original separate words “electronic mail” form has almost completely disappeared already.) You will get various answers as to which version is proper.

This progression seems to follow from linguistic theories of both Zipf (‘frequently-used words get shorter’) and Piantadosi (words with a smaller information content get shorter’). [Both theories vastly summarized.]

I would use the hyphen. A lot of times when you’re setting type, especially in these days of declining staff in the QC department, you don’t know if the copy is going to break over a line or a page, and if you’re reading

Sarah was St. Louis
turn page

and that is confusing to the reader.

If you put

Sarah was St. Louis-
turn page

there is a flow for the reader.

I think the issue isn’t so much semantic as it is cognitive. With justification/kerning, the distance caused by the period in “St.” is so little that the period itself does more to assist in processing “St. Louis” as a chunk of information than it does to separate the two parts semantically. At least for me. I tried it all four ways. In MS-Word.