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hyphens: nouns with adjectives and participles

1. Hyphenate noun-plus-adjective compounds (in that order), whether they are used attributively (before the noun) or predicatively:

  • duty-free goods / The goods were duty-free.
  • tax-exempt bonds / The bonds are tax-exempt.

2. Hyphenate noun-plus-participle compounds regardless of the position:

  • snow-capped mountains / The mountains are snow-capped.
  • a time-consuming activity / This activity is time-consuming.

Exceptions: There are a number of them, including handmade and handwritten.

3. Do not hyphenate compounds formed from a noun and a gerund (present participle used as a noun). Some noun-plus-gerund compounds are written as one word:

  • housekeeping
  • shipbuilding
  • sightseeing
  • cabinetmaking

Others are written as separate words:

  • decision making
  • power sharing
  • problem solving
  • deficit spending


  • foot-dragging
  • gut-wrenching

See HYPHENS: COMPOUND ADJECTIVES for such compounds used adjectivally.