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Grammar - einen Bindestrich verwenden - oder doch nicht?

Schlagwörter: Grammar, Bindestrich, englische Grammatik, Englisch lernen, richtige Aussprache


In February, we reviewed the use of the hyphen in compound phrases used as adjectives. Now we turn to the rules for compound phrases used as nouns and verbs. Because most style guides are in complete disagreement on this issue, it’s easy to be stumped about whether to use a hyphen or not in any given compound.


The following style guide fuses approaches from leading grammar authorities. It will help you feel like the answer to the question of which form to use is not totally capricious. It will also help ensure that the compounds you create don’t look strange to native speakers.


Compound forms

Compound verbs and nouns take either the open, closed or hyphenated form. Open compounds are written as multiple words. Closed compounds are written together (like compounds in German) and hyphenated compounds are written with hyphens.

Compound verbs

Compounds formed with two verbs should always be hyphenated, regardless of whether they are used as verbs, nouns or adjectives. The entire compound may then be conjugated or declined as needed:

Upon consideration, they decided to heat-treat the substance.

The company tried to freeze-dry the fruit to make it last longer, but it didn’t work.

They applied three heat-treats before they got it right.

The heat-treat process was flawed.

Compounds not containing any verb but used as verbs should be hyphenated.

Their use of this blue-green colour is excessive. Sometimes I feel like I’m being blue-greened to death.

We’ll out-fox them if it’s the last thing we do.

He habitually rubber-stamps everything that comes across his desk.

Compound verbs consisting of two single-syllable words should be closed if the verb is the last word in the compound.

Robert Darwin decided to override the CEO’s orders to downsize the entire business unit.

All other compounds used as verbs should be open:

My boss often calls my daughter to baby sit his children when there is a company event.

The server breaks down at least twice a day.

At the end, he broke down and admitted he was the one stealing toilet paper from the supply room.

I’ll follow up with you next week.

He sanity checked the costs in his proposal before he sent it out.

Compound nouns

Use a hyphen to avoid confusion

The most important use of the hyphen is to avoid confusion. If the compound noun is being modified and it is unclear if the first word in the compound is part of the modifier or part of the compound, use a hyphen to clarify your intent. Otherwise, use the open form.

Peter left his bag in the IT supply- room. (This refers to the supply room in the IT department. The IT-supply room would be the room containing IT-related supplies. If there are two supply rooms and the reader could be confused, it’s important to hyphenate in the correct place.)

They shut down that web site for data security reasons. (Does not require hyphenation because no confusion results).

If the compound noun consists of three or more words including prepositions or adverbial particles, hyphenate it.

Marvin Stevens is a jack-of-all-trades.

Our CEO is also my mother-in-law.

Almost every other compound noun should be open, with exceptions.

When nouns referring to new concepts are created by compounding other nouns, they usually begin in hyphenated form. As the concept becomes more common, the hyphen is usually dropped and the concept is written as two separate words. Sometimes this evolutionary step is skipped. The final form is usually closed. Examples: e-mail, email; data-base, data base, database.

To understand where a common word is in this process, the best approach is to type it into your document in closed form and run the spell checker. If your software does not complain, use the closed form.

Babysitting is not one of my favourite types of work.

I think we’re dealing with a breakdown in communications.

We like to order takeout.

If your software indicates that the word is misspelled, you’ve got a problem: in most cases, it will suggest both the hyphenated and open forms.

If your software suggests only the open form, or only a hyphenated form, use the suggested form.

Jervis Masterson is the new postmaster general.

Synthon is our parent organisation.

Our developers are a team of master artists.

Do you have a bottle opener?

Too much tittle-tattle in the office is not a good thing.

If your software suggests both a hyphenated and an open form, use the open form.

These leads are unqualified and don’t require a follow up.

If after selecting the open form, your grammar checker complains about one of the words in the compound, hyphenate the compound.

The engineer circumvented the communication problem by creating a direct- connect between the two offices.

If you are still in doubt after using your spell checker, don’t spend any more time on it. Write your compound in open form. This is the safest approach, as the use of hyphens is slowly disappearing from the language except as a tool for helping avoid confusion.

Schlagwörter: Grammar, Bindestrich, englische Grammatik, Englisch lernen, richtige Aussprache

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