How should an „anti-human trafficking operation“ be hyphenated? I recently saw this expression in a newspaper article, with a hyphen between „anti“ and „human“. It took me some time to figure out that it meant an operation against trafficking of humans, and not a trafficking operation that was anti-human. Are there rules for hyphenation when one of the parts to be joined consists of several words?

  • Ideally, it should have two hyphens, in my view, but there's no doubt that many people will write it with one hyphen, and unfortunately, this may well be the recommendation of some style guides, as Jack O'Flaherty suggests.
    – rjpond
    Jan 25, 2021 at 8:04

2 Answers 2


Rules about hyphenation may differ from one editor to the next, but one guideline is that well-recognized compound nouns don't need hyphens. "Human trafficking" is one of those.
I think "anti-human-trafficking operation" looks awkward.

  • The guideline that well-recognised compounds don't need hyphens doesn't necessarily apply in this particular case, because a prefix has been attached. Still, it may be true that some editors or some style guides prefer the single hyphen.
    – rjpond
    Jan 25, 2021 at 8:06

I see the problem. I'd use "anti-human-trafficking operation." It does look a little awkward, but you can't have "anti-human" by itself here.

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