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I have written the following sentence describing an application we wrote:

This intranet application provides a comfortable-to-use option for managerial staff to create and remove access permissions.

However, I'm not sure about my grammar here at all and if this conveys the right meaning.

What I want to say is that managerial staff can (using this application) comfortably create and remove access permissions.

My related question is: Did I use the hyphens in "comfortable-to-use" correctly, or should I omit them? My feeling says that they're correct, but I'm not a native speaker so I don't trust it :)

I'm mainly interested in American English, but anything else is fine as well, as the difference between those "dialects" is very interesting to me.

  • My question is what makes it comfortable? The standard phrase is easy-to-use. Comfortable makes me think of plush beds and couches... What about convenient? – Catija Feb 20 '15 at 8:37
  • I agree "easy-to-use" is more common. Yes, this should be "multi" hyphenated, and is not in the slightest bit weird. "Comfortable-to-use" might be more accurate, but does not roll off the tongue so nicely as "easy-to-use". – Brian Hitchcock Feb 20 '15 at 8:50
  • Thanks @Catija, if one of you writes an answer summarizing the comments, I'll gladly accept it. I went with "convenient" instead as I think it really sounds much better. – InvisiblePanda Feb 20 '15 at 10:32
  • Same goes to @δοῦλος, but I can only mention one in a comment it seems :) – InvisiblePanda Feb 20 '15 at 10:33
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Consider this answer more of a discussion than a direct answer to your question. The comments given above are interesting, but first of all let me summarize and then explain .

1) It is not a mistake to hyphenate "Comfortable-to-use" in the way you did, because it is a compound adjective.

2) Your grammar is right, but it does not convey the right meaning, because of poor choice of words and compound adjectives in your case.

Now for the explanation.

Point 1 :

It is not a mistake to hyphenate "Comfortable-to-use" - It is a compound adjective, so hyphenating it is correct. Consider other compound adjectives like state-of-the-art, mouth-watering, world-famous, these are widely used compound adjectives and most of the time they are not hyphenated even though they should be (here is an example). Consider the word "non-violent", you might have seen it being used as "nonviolent", yes it needs a hyphen between the word and the prefix but it is not wrong when the hyphen is ignored and the prefix just attached to the word, so naturally when you are exposed to a lot of words that originally had to be hyphenated but were not, using multiple hyphens as part of a compound adjective can feel weird and wrong, so I can understand why you were unsure about hyphenating "Comfortable-to-use". There is a lot of grammar behind it and I don't want to delve deeper. Usage of hyphen and apostrophe often confuses a lot of people and often misused as well, but in your case you were right to hyphenate "Comfortable-to-use".I always have 2 favorite examples to quote when I try to explain hyphenation

Examples : Man-eating(compound adjective)

1) Man-eating Crocodile vs Man eating Crocodile

2) Man eating Chicken vs Man-eating Chicken

The examples are a bit funny but shows you the impact of hyphenation.

Point 2:

Your grammar is right, but it does not convey the right meaning, because of poor choice of words and compound adjectives in your case. I say your grammar is right, because the way you constructed the sentence is correct, but still your sentence does not convey the right meaning because of poor choice of words. I am a software developer as well (C#, WPF) so I can understand what you are trying to convey, but the sentence falls short because of the use of "Comfortable-to-use". I agree with some of the comments to your question where they advise you to choose a single word such as convenient, or use compound adjectives like easy-to-use, I would say those are valid suggestions, not because "Comfortable-to-use" is not idiomatic, but because it does not fit the context.

As a software developer I always give top priority to reliability and ease-of-use of the software and I will make sure that the customers understand that as well. That is where your sentence falls short(by the way, falls short is an idiom not a compound adjective).

Comfortable vs Easy

Comfort is a physical experience, but ease is a quality. for example, lets say you are a English native but bilingual and you are equally good in English and French, and you are given a choice of writing a 10,000 word essay in either English or French, which option do you think will feel comfortable? It is not easy to write up a 10,000 word essay be it in English or French, but at-least writing it in English will make you feel more comfortable than writing it in French.

So when you talk about ease vs comfort in terms of software

Easy-to-use : Hey my software does not require much learning and/or practice to use it. It is intuitive and requires very less effort on the customers part to use it.

Comfortable-to-use : Hey my software can be easy or hard to use but it does not have any flashing images or a florescent green background, it is very comfortable to use but I cant tell you if it is easy or tough.

So replacing "Comfortable-to-use" with "Easy-to-use" will make more sense.

On a side note about idioms, idioms are basically group of words that cannot be interpreted literally or has a different meaning when it becomes a part of a sentence.

Examples:

Rub someone the wrong way - meaning to annoy or bother ,Jump the gun - would mean to be doing something early,Pay the piper - means you need to face the consequences of your actions, It's raining cats and dogs - It is raining heavily.

Easy-to-use literally means "easy to use", so "Comfortable-to-use" is just as much idiomatic as "easy-to-use" is, hence the reason it is idiomatic or not does not make "Comfortable-to-use" weird.

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This intranet application provides a comfortable-to-use option for managerial staff to create and remove access permissions.

The compound adjective comfortable-to-use is not idiomatic in English. Let me state this again, in a different way: a native English speaker would be very unlikely to use comfortable-to-use as a multiword adjective. (Thus, by "idiomatic" I am not talking about idoms.)

Instead, we would use this arrangement of words in a sentence such as "This object is comfortable to use." But in this case, we would probably not be talking about an application option but about a device such as a mouse or keyboard that does not provide discomfort or stress to a user's hand or wrist. And even in this case, it would be rare to use the adjective 'comfortable-to-use' before the device, as in a comfortable-to-use mouse or a comfortable-to-use keyboard. It is just not something we say.

As for describing the option of an application, I am not sure that comfortable is the word you really want.

What I want to say is that managerial staff can (using this application) comfortably create and remove access permissions.

Again, I am not sure comfortably is what you want here.

In short, comfortable can mean:

  1. Providing physical comfort: a comfortable chair.
  2. Free from stress or anxiety; at ease: not comfortable about the interview.
  3. Producing feelings of ease or security: a comfortable person; a comfortable evening at home.
  4. Sufficient to provide financial security: comfortable earnings.

From The Free Dictionary

I am not sure any of these definitions apply naturally to an application. I suspect what you realy mean is something like easy or convenient. If not, please correct me.

If so, you could use the simple adjective easy or convenient, or the compound adjective easy-to-use, instead of comfortable-to-use in your first sentence.

Let's look at Google Ngrams. Although you cannot always trust these things, when they fail to produce a single usage, such as for comfortable-to-use, you can be fairly sure that this usage is not idiomatic.

enter image description here

Notice that in this chart, easy-to-use (yellow) and covenient-to-use (red) are compound adjectives. The green line represents the three-word collocation (string) comfortable to use, and blue is the three-word collocation convenient to use.

It may seem like we rarely say the collocation comfortable to use, but that is not true. We do. But just not as often as the compound adjective easy-to-use or the collocation convenient to use. And to verify that, you can do a search for "comfortable to use".

You might ask, Where is my compound adjective comfortable-to-use? Well, with Ngrams you can enter a maximum of four phrases. So I entered comfortable-to-use by itself in another Ngram, and that got zero results. I call that not idiomatic.

You may find it interesting that neither comfortable-to-use nor convenient-to-use turned up any results on an Ngram (They don't in a plain old google search either), while easy-to-use is shown to be frequently used. I am not sure what it suggests, if anything, other than what is idiomatic and what is not. But easy has two syllables, convenient three, and comfortable three or four, depending on how one pronounces it. So number of syllables may have something to do with the use or nonuse of these words in compound adjectives, but that's probably not the whole story.

As far as hyphens go, yes, that would be the correct way to hyphenate comfortable-to-use if you wanted to use it as an adjective. Just like you would hyphenate easy-to-use. But I hope that this answer has at least partially persuaded you that we just don't use comfortable-to-use, although we do use the collocation (or string) comfortable to use as in

This vacuum cleaner/steering wheel/keyboard/mouse is comfortable to use.

Hope this answer was easy to use.

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