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General Writing and Grammar Help/compound modifier hyphenation


Thank you for your help so far, Richard. I should've clarified that I do not create long modifiers. I find them in copy written by another party. I'm a proofreader.

I'm not allowed to rephrase my example because, with appropriate hyphenation, it would be grammatically correct (though not very eloquent). But I'd like to be sure that I'm hyphenating correctly.

My example:
a non Apex Health Systems authorized service

Which of these would be correct?
1. a non-Apex Health Systems-authorized service
2. a non-Apex-Health-Systems-authorized service

I know that "non" requires a hyphen because it's a prefix. I know that "authorized" requires a hyphen because it's part of the compound adjective. Now, if the company name consists of more than one word, do you hyphenate it too?

Matt, as a proofreader you're perhaps in a difficult position. Non-obvious grammatical errors are really the province of copy editors, not proofreaders. I hope you're not expected to do work beyond that for which you're paid.

I'm not allowed to rephrase my example because, with appropriate hyphenation, it would be grammatically correct. The problem with this statement is that there is not always appropriate hyphenation.

Neither of your current two examples is understandable, and therefore neither can be said to be appropriately hyphenatated or grammatically correct. As I may have previously said, if what you mean is a service not authorized by Apex Health Systems, that's the way in which the thought should be phrased.

If someone is insisting that the phrase be hyphenated, feel free to show this response to that person. I'm not aware of any way to correctly express that thought with a hyphen.

I can tell you that a hyphen can never be inserted into a company name that does not already contain a hyphen.

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Richard Johnson


I can answer any question--usually the same day--on correct English grammar, usage, and (non-fiction) writing style, usually the same day, based on 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 primarily on the sixteenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style.

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.

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For many years a member of Mensa.

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