Survival guide to climate change … hyphenation


In the scheme of things that are going to happen under climate change, hyphenation is surely the least of anyone’s worries. However, I am in the business of making reports readable and internally consistent, and while I’m waiting to get the dinghy out it remains my daily task to wrestle with such issues.

The problem is that I often see phrases such as ‘climate-change impact’ mixed up with ‘climate change impact’, and ‘climate-change-induced change’ with ‘climate change-induced change’. In the interests of hyphen harmony, I’ve put this list together as a handy how-to.

My source is the (Australian) Style Manual 6th edn. I’ve copied out the relevant sections below, giving them a ‘rule number’ in square brackets (and their page numbers, of course). The table below that describes, in the first column, how these phrases should be set; the second column tells you which rule I’ve applied to make that decision.

Here goes.

p. 88 … the main concern should be to retain consistency in hyphenation throughout a document … hyphens can be an important device to avoid ambiguity, but otherwise there is no need to overuse them. The decision about whether or not to use a hyphen must often be based on the context in which the word or words appear.

[1] p. 91 Compound adjectives: when a compound adjective consists of two adjectives, or of a noun plus an adjective the expression is hyphenated no matter whether it precedes or follows the noun it is describing: bitter-sweet, red-hot → climate-ready, climate-ready approach, approach is climate-ready.

[2] p. 92 In contrast, compound adjectives that are set phrases consisting of, say, a noun plus a noun or an adjective plus a noun are not usually hyphenated: a tax office ruling, the stock exchange report, an equal opportunity employer → climate change approach.

Note: if the expression is further modified, a hyphen may be necessary to prevent ambiguity, as in a ‘a retrospective tax-office ruling’ → mild climate-change attitude to avoid the problem of reading ‘mild climate’ as a set phrase. I haven’t ever actually seen this phrase used, but the principle applies.

[3] p. 93 Compound adjectives containing capital letters, italics or quotations marks are not usually hyphenated: a ‘do or die’ attitude → ‘climate ready’ approach.

Note: it’s normally sufficient to put a phrase in quotation marks like this just once, the first time it is mentioned. Thereafter the quotation marks can be dropped, which leads us to ‘climate ready’ approach for the first mention, but climate-ready approach for subsequent mentions.

[4] p. 108: when a compound adjective precedes the noun it qualifies, it is often hyphenated. If, however, the compound noun consists of more than one word (or element) on either side of the hyphen, an en rule should replace the hyphen to indicate the broader link: a hepatitis C–positive person → climate change–induced weather, pre–climate change distribution.

[5] Compound adjectives involving present or past participles usually take a hyphen: government-owned facility, heart-rending image → climate-induced change.

Phrase RULE
climate-ready approach 1
‘climate ready’ approach 3
climate-ready biodiversity management activities 1
‘climate ready’ biodiversity conservation objectives 3
climate-ready biodiversity planning 1
climate-ready status 1
climate change adaptation 2
climate change impacts 2
climate change responses 2
climate change scenarios 2
‘climate ready’ assessment criteria 3
‘climate ready’ concepts 3
‘climate ready’ framework 3
climate change–driven changes 4
climate change–induced loss 4
non–climate change pressures 4
pre–climate change distribution 4
climate-driven ecological change 5
climate-induced change 5

Source: Snooks and Co. 2002. Style manual for authors, editors and printers, 6th edn, John Wiley & Sons, Milton, Qld.