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Marketing is asking us (Development) to change some UI text to be grammatically incorrect. Specifically, they're basically asking to remove hyphens from compound adjectives (e.g., 'thirty-foot wingspan', 'late-fee messages').

That would change the meaning of the text. But maybe 95% of users don't know better. In which case, there's an argument to be made that grammatically incorrect equates to a better user experience.

And there is one case where I myself have opted not to use hyphens even though they are called for, grammatically speaking. Example:

"Show credit card transactions"

I'm curious if anyone else has settled on a rule for this. Or if there's a style guide that has good guidance on this question.

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    I see you are in the US. So presumably your target audience is just in the US ?
    – PhillipW
    Aug 6, 2021 at 16:58
  • @PhillipW, correct
    – tvanc
    Aug 6, 2021 at 17:03
  • I would think that ‘ late-fee messages’ and ‘ late fee messages’ is not the same? (But English is not my first language)
    – Stefan
    Aug 7, 2021 at 6:44
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    This just makes me happy that in German, Kreditkartentransaktionsanzeige does not have this problem ;) Aug 7, 2021 at 9:10
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    @Stefan A ‘late fee message’ would have me wondering what a ‘fee message’ is, and why it would be late.
    – gidds
    Aug 7, 2021 at 19:01

1 Answer 1

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The Associated Press Stylebook, commonly adopted by publications and marketing departments, used to require hyphens between compound adjectives but changed its guidelines in 2019:

We updated our hyphen guidance this year to say no hyphen is needed in a compound modifier if the modifier is commonly recognized as one phrase, and if the meaning is clear and unambiguous without the hyphen. One example is first quarter touchdown.

However, the Chicago Manual of Style, another widely adopted styleguide, still recommends using hyphens for compound adjectives.

As a former marketing copywriter, I can attest that using hyphens with compound adjectives often confused content reviewers, who would remove them even though they were "stylistically" correct. Your marketing department may have come to the conclusion that the average reader doesn't understand why the hyphens are there and therefore decided to no longer use them.

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    Thanks. As it turns out, they are using the AP style guide you referenced. I think the AP's guidance makes sense, and matches my own decision. I think they missed the part where it says "commonly recognized as one phrase, and if the meaning is clear and unambigous", and instead took away from the guide that hyphens for compound adjectives should be avoided.
    – tvanc
    Aug 6, 2021 at 18:04
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    And of course their example, "first quarter touchdown", is a garden-path phrase that demonstrates exactly why hyphens are courteous to the reader. Aug 7, 2021 at 16:59
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    It's first quarter-touchdown, right? (I'm not a native speaker and don't play baseball…)
    – Bergi
    Aug 7, 2021 at 19:32
  • @Bergi It's "first-quarter touchdown"
    – Anita CT
    Aug 9, 2021 at 15:51

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