As a general rule, the words in a compound adjective are hyphenated when they come before a noun (a well-known actor) but not when they come after (The actor is well known).
Also, compound adjectives formed with an adverb ending in -ly (such as rapidly changing) are usually not hyphenated.
- Attributive Adjective
- Compound Noun
- Compound Verb
- Rhyming Compound
- Semantic Transparency
- Suspended Compound
Examples and Observations:
- "You know, everybody thinks we found this broken-down horse and fixed him, but we didn't. He fixed us."
- "If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through."
(Stephen Fry as General Melchett in "Private Plane." Blackadder Goes Forth, 1989)
- "A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life."
(William Arthur Ward)
- "In the 19th century, before the science of archaeology became well developed, the Ottomans laid out the brick and concrete city that stands today."
(Scott Macleod, "Alexandria Rising," Time magazine, June 15, 1998)
- "The cutting edge is quite straight and well polished, and as keen as when it was finished."
(Robert Smyth, The Aborigines of Victoria, 1878)
- "Another well-polished asset, [Gordon] Brown's reputation for sound economic stewardship, has become ever more tarnished."
(Catherine Mayer, "Gordon Brown in America," Time magazine, April 16, 2008)
- "Women's sexy underwear is a minor but significant growth industry of late-twentieth-century Britain in the twilight of capitalism."
- "It is your original ethnic theme park. I could eat the air, food-promise-crammed. Street life chugs, as thick and rich as arterial blood. Guitar-twang speech, a harmonic convergence of it, is all around."
(D. Keith Mano, "There's More to Chinatown." The New York Times, April 24, 1988)
- "Interestingly, hyphenation is also used creatively to indicate that an idea that would normally be expressed by a phrase is being treated as a single word for communicative purposes because it has crystallised in the writer's mind into a firm, single concept. Thus, for example, the expression simple to serve is normally a phrase, just like easy to control. But it can also be used as a hyphenated word as in simple-to-serve recipe dishes (M&S Magazine 1992: 9). . . .
"But for creative hyphenation you are unlikely to find anything more striking than this:
[2.3] On Pitcairn there is little evidence of the what-we-have-we-hold, no-surrender, the Queen's-picture-in-every-room sort of attitude.(Francis Katamba, English Words: Structure, History, Usage, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2005)
(Simon Winchester in The Guardian magazine, 12 June 1993: 27; italic added to highlight the compounds)"
- "Adverbs that do not end in -ly may take the hyphen to form a compound adjective. The reason is obvious. A fast-moving script suggests a roller coaster plot while a fast moving script might have pace but it is emotionally charged (i.e., emotionally moving) at the same time."
(Bruce Grundy, So You Want to be a Journalist? Cambridge University Press, 2007)