There are compound words in English like well-known, ill-mannered and so on. The rules tell us that they are spelled with a hyphen (well-known) if they are attributes (attributive adjectives), but without hyphen (well known) if they are predicates (predicative adjectives). It's all right. But what if they are dictionary entries? I think these words may be present in dictionaries. Will they have a hyphen in this case?

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    There is no rigorous consistency in this matter. Dictionaries are put together by teams of lexicographers whose opinions may vary on this matter. There are no "rules", just conventions which can change over time and place. google.com/… Mar 19 '17 at 11:55
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    I could even see a lexicographer adding an entry wellknown at some point, and that act would cause them to become "well-known" and eventually "wellknown" in lexicographical circles. Mar 19 '17 at 12:02
  • I asked because of very pure scientific interest, without any urgent need. Really did not hear about "wellknown" as a single word, without the space.
    – Alexander
    Mar 19 '17 at 13:56
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    You need to worry less about hyphens and more about modals :) Mar 19 '17 at 14:20
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    In case it's still unclear, TRomano means that his comment about "wellknown" had been hypothetical, as evinced by his use of "I could even see." Mar 20 '17 at 9:37

There're no hard and fast rules whether or not we should hyphenate a compound adjective like well-known/well known. But it's far more common to hyphenate such adjectives if they are used as attributive adjectives and not to hyphenate them when used as predicative adjectives.

The Free Dictionary states:

"Well-known can be spelled with or without a hyphen. You usually spell it with a hyphen in front of a noun and without a hyphen after a verb. For examples:

I took him to a well-known doctor in Harley Street.

The building became very well known."


The general rule is that multiword descriptions using adverbs should not be hyphenated. As 'well' is an adverb, it should never be hyphenated in multiword descriptions.

However, if you consider 'well-known' to be one word, then hyphenating it would be correct in either predicate or attributive position.

Considering dictionaries vary on what they consider to be hyphenated words containing 'well' and that hyphens in general are messy and a bit unnatural for some, I personally would recommend never using a hyphen. The grammar still follows general rules for adverbs, you don't have to worry about what a 'well' word is, and it's easier to read.

  • I've upvoted this answer because it explains a change a very meticulous journal made in a manuscript of mine in which I hyphenated well-known as an adjective. I personally do not like this aspect of their house style, but knowing why means that I can save my energies and refrain from disputing with them.
    – David
    Jul 22 at 11:58

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