There is the following sentence in the Chicago Manual of Style:

When compound modifiers (also called phrasal adjectives) such as open-mouthed or full-length precede a noun, hyphenation usually lends clarity. … When such compounds follow the noun they modify, hyphenation is usually unnecessary, even for adjectival compounds that are hyphenated in Webster’s (such as well-read or ill-humored).

There is also the following one:

If the phrasal adjective follows a verb, it is usually unhyphenated—for example, compare a well-trained athlete with an athlete who is well trained.

My question is: Does it apply to fine-grained? For instance, is the following correct?

Such information is called fine grained, as it contains multiple measurements.

Or should it be instead as follows?

Such information is called fine-grained, as it contains multiple measurements.

I suspect that fine-grained doesn’t qualify as a phrasal adjective.

  • 1
    "Well-trained" is a verb-centred compound adjective, just the same as "well-travelled, well-behaved etc. are. They should be hyphenated whether used attributively or postpositively. Fine-grained is also a compound adjective - in fact it's even lexicalised.
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 15:53
  • @BillJ, you mean fine-grained should be spelled as fine grained after nouns, right?
    – Ivan
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 17:24
  • I would spell it as "fine-grained" both before and after nouns. link
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 18:19
  • These compounds tend to be hyphenated but a percentage or writers and/or editors do not hyphenate. This is ultimately a matter of style and typographic/orthographic convention.
    – TimR
    Commented Oct 29, 2017 at 12:10
  • If "fine-grained" is not hyphenated, it's not a compound, but a syntactic construction, which it isn't!
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 29, 2017 at 17:35

2 Answers 2


I might use fine grained when used after the noun, and that's how I read the CMOS. I also agree with their overall philosophy of using a minimum of hyphens, usually only to prevent ambiguity. I don't see any ambiguity in The wood is fine grained.

On the other hand the CMOS also says to look up words in Webster’s dictionary to see how they are used. Nevertheless, just because something is spelled a particular way in a dictionary doesn't mean the spelling won't change.

So, it's ultimately a matter of style.

I am however not sure I would ever use 'fine grained' to refer to information. How does the definition of fine-grained fit with information? Note: As I look on Google books, I see fine-grained information used mostly in specific disciplines rather than general usage. I wasn't aware of this specialized usage.

  • 1
    Information can certainly be fine-grained. We talk of the fine-grained semantic classification of adjuncts, where it means in great detail.
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 29, 2017 at 17:32

To paraphrase BillJ's comment:

"Fine-grained" is a compound adjective, composed of the two separate adjectives "fine" and "grained". Other examples are "soft-spoken", "hard-edged", "steep-sided", and so on.

In contrast, "well-trained" is a "verb-centered" compound adjective composed of the adverb "well" and the adjective "trained".

Many compound adjectives could be written using the adverb -- "finely-grained", "softly-spoken", etc. -- but aren't by convention.

I tentatively agree that verb-centered compound adjectives don't have to be hyphenated when it follows a verb.

The wood was finely grained, treated with protective oils and polished by generations of loving hands.

Otherwise compound adjectives should be hyphenated no matter where they appear in the sentence:

The hard-bitten detective stared down the suspect. "Where were you last night?!" he demanded.

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