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General Writing and Grammar Help/Punctuating Compound Adjectives


QUESTION: I write sales copy, sometimes with long compound adjectives, like: "Their PVC injection molded dual-compound construction also offers stretchy uppers, while their long wearing slip resistant outsoles perform well on slick surfaces." How would you punctuate and hyphenate this sentence?

ANSWER: The sentence with minor exceptions is well written. As you probably realize, the use of successive compound adjectives can often be the best way of expressing a thought that would otherwise require more verbiage and complexity.

The two-word compound adjectives in your sentence are of two types: adverb+adjective and noun+adjective. With few exceptions such compounds are uniformly hyphenated. The primary possible exceptions are (1) when the adverb is more, most, less, least, or very, which are usually open [that is, with a space instead of a hyphen]; and (2) when the noun+adjective form follows the noun that it modifies. Neither of those possible exceptions applies here.

Multiple-word compound adjectives like PVC injection molded are ordinarily spelled with hyphens separating the words. There are some exceptions, but they don't apply here. Please follow up if you'd like me to elaborate.

Correct would be:

Their PVC-injection-molded dual-compound construction also offers stretchy uppers, while their long-wearing slip-resistant outsoles perform well on slick surfaces.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Actually, that is what I was thinking. I notice, too, that you didn't use commas to separate the hyphenated compounds. Is that because you consider them cumulative?

Jerry, if what you asking is why there isn't there a comma, for example, between long-wearing and slip-resistant, the answer is that there is no comma separating successive adjectives that modify the same word, unless they're part of a series connected by a conjunction at the end (usually and or or ). So, for example, one would talk of:

a long dark scary hallway, but
a long, dark, and scary hallway.

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Thanks for the follow-up. Please remember to rate both my original answer and this follow-up answer. (AllExperts is not altogether clear in explaining this point.)

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Richard Johnson


I specialize in grammar. I can however answer any question except homework questions--usually the same day--concerning English grammar, usage, or (non-fiction) writing style, on the basis of the American practice. All answers are explained, and I encourage follow-up.


I'm a retired editor and a lifelong student of this subject. My library includes a great many works to which I've referred through the years. I currently rely largely on the sixteenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style supplemented, where appropriate, by Long, The New College Grammar.

For over 30 years I edited the newsletter of my own organization, which had different names but was last known as

BA, Brooklyn College. Advanced studies in economics and political science.

Awards and Honors
For many years a member of Mensa.

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