1. Marjatta
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    Marjatta New Member

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    Hyphenating (open) compound words - just a matter of preference?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Marjatta, Jul 28, 2011.

    Hello all,

    There has been so much helpful advice here on the subject of hyphens, but I'm having a challenge with one situation in particular.

    For example, I know that "high school student" isn't normally written as "high-school student" because the term "high school" is generally understood to be a single idea.

    But in the following sentences, is it simply a matter of preference? The compound term has the word "pet" in it, meaning a dog or a cat - not the other use of "pet" as a favorite. In my mind, it would be unlikely someone would mistake its meaning, but the author has written it thus:

    He was a pet-company owner.
    He wanted to improve his pet-business success.
    I shared my pet-industry background with him.

    Do these sentences look odd to you? Is the term "pet company" or "pet industry" well-known enough, or should I agree with the author and leave the hyphens in to avoid ambiguity? Does it really just boil down to a matter of choice?

    Thanks so much for your opinions and expertise!

    Marjatta
     
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Oooh, I can answer this one...

    Okay so when you're deciding whether or not to use a hyphen, it all depends on whether or not the two words are separate terms, or a single term. For example, small business. In the sentence "Joe is the entrepeneur of a small business," then small describes the business, and they're two separate terms. But in the sentence "The bill affects small-business owners," small-business is one term, and without the hyphen, the bill affects small people who own businesses.

    So, on to your example..."I worked in the pet industry" is hyphenless because pet describes the industry, and they're two separate terms. But if you say "I have pet-industry experience," you need the hyphen, because pet-industry is used as one term. Without the hyphen, you'd be saying that your experience is a pet.

    The litmus test is whether or not the meaning of what you're saying could (grammatically) be ambigious without a hyphen.

    Hope I helped!
     
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  3. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    I'd actually take it the other way: no hyphen.

    "Pet" modifies "industry," so no hyphen is needed. You could say "industry of pets" or "business of pets." This is just an opinion, though.

    THe other side is that someone might construe "pet" as "favoured" as in "teacher's pet": "He was a pet-company owner" could be seen as he owned a company that was favoured by people, so a hyphen might be needed despite what I said above.
     
  4. Marjatta
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    Marjatta New Member

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    Hi Mallory,

    Yes, you helped indeed! I understand the pure logic behind what you have described ... and I agree with you 100%.

    I see so many variations ... for example, if I do a Google News search on "small business owners," in most publications, "small business" isn't hyphenated even when the phrase describes the owner.

    When I do a search on "social media expert," the term "social media" isn't hyphenated either.

    Going back to the "high school student" example, for instance, if we didn't know that "high school" itself was a single term without the hyphen, we might think that it was a school student who was "high."

    "Small business" to me has also become an open compound word (without hyphens) similar to other open compound words, like "post office" or "real estate." I see terms like "post office employee" or "real estate agent," for example, when I read the newspaper. I haven't yet seen the term "real estate" (even when describing someone who sells it) hyphenated.

    To me, "pet business" and "pet industry" also sound like open compound words (like "real estate"), but perhaps that's only because I've heard them so often that I now think of them as a single entity. So to hear "pet business owner" or "pet industry marketer" now sounds normal to me... just as normal as "real estate agent."

    "Small business," I'm guessing, is something that has now morphed into an open compound word (like "real estate").

    I will continue to pursue this question and let you know what I find out, if anything!

    Thanks again for your excellent response, Mallory!

    M
     
  5. Marjatta
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    Marjatta New Member

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    Thanks for your response, lostinwebspace!

    You're right. The word "pet" can describe the industry and can do so in either the dog/cat way or the favorite way: "This is my pet industry." (Wow, can you think of a more open-to-interpretation statement than that?)

    If I were to substitute the use of "pet" for "favored," I would be inclined not to use the hyphen. I would say, "He was a pet (favorite) company owner." At the same time, I would also say, "He was a pet company owner," to mean he owned a pet company. To me, the term "pet company" is one of those open compound words like "high school" and "real estate."

    Then again, if I were 100% sure of that, I wouldn't be driving you good folks nuts!

    Thanks again for brainstorming with me, lostinwebspace! I really appreciate your input ... yet more food for thought for me to digest.

    M
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    hyphens in those examples would be incorrect... no editor i know of [including myself] would let that pass...

    and no, it's not just a matter of style...
     
  7. Marjatta
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    Marjatta New Member

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    Thanks, mammamaia, that was my original thought, too, and I went with it.

    Marjatta
     
  8. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    He owned a company selling pets.
    He wanted to improve his success in the pet business.
    Him and I shared a background in the pet industry.

    Less ambiguous this way? Not sure I succeeded, but sometimes a bit of restructuring a sentence removes the ambiguity. Adding "the", pet industry becomes something more specific and objective, and is less likely to be seen as a personal and relative pet thing, i.e. "favoured".
     

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