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In my English exercise book there is this sentence:

The young lady is well dressed.

It asks to rephrase it in a new sentence, and provides this solution:

The well dressed young lady.

I think that the sentence above should be:

The well-dressed young lady (a hyphen between the words well and dressed). Am I wrong?

  • 3
    You are not wrong, but neither is your book. I would employ the hyphen; but it is not obligatory, it is merely a courtesy to the reader. In this case its omission does not seem to me create any ambiguity. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 22 '13 at 14:45
  • The book's suggested rephrasing isn't a complete sentence. – Jim Dec 22 '13 at 19:22
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As per StoneyB's comment, the hyphen is effectively optional.

In OP's specific example, most people probably would include it, but grammatically the usage is no different in, say,...

a recently published review

...which as you'll see if you follow the link, most writers don't hyphenate.


Since language is primarily spoken, one must be careful when suggesting the presence or absence of the hyphen has any semantic significance. But sometimes there really is a difference - for example,...

"It won't work properly unless you do the right mouse click"

...where it's possible the right (correct) mouse-click is in fact a left (or middle) click. This is one of those rare cases where (in principle) the written form can be less ambiguous than the spoken form...

1: right-mouse-click (definitely the one on the opposite side to the left-mouse-click).
2: right mouse click (completely ambiguous)
3: right mouse-click (potentially ambiguous)

Some native speakers will think they can unambiguously indicate whether they mean right=correct or right=[opposite of left] depending on stress patterns and pauses, but in practice many native listeners still won't be 100% sure what was meant.

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