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I'm a bit confused about the correct spelling of the word 'brute force' (that spelling could be wrong since I'm not quite sure how to write it properly).

Different resources write it in different manners:

Okay, already four variations! Moreover, Google accepts 'bruteforce' as correct, while iOS thinks it's wrong and gives two variants: 'brute force' and 'brute-force'.

What's the correct spelling, then?

  • I think it depends on the context. – Victor Bazarov Sep 2 '15 at 15:30
  • Which are you asking for? Most correct or more common? (The answers might not be the same.) – J.R. Sep 2 '15 at 18:54
  • @J.R., when I was writing this I thought these variations are the same so I added 'most common'. I'll edit it now. – ForceBru Sep 2 '15 at 18:56
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You have four examples due to how the words are being used differently in each case.

The noun phrase “brute force” describes the raw strength used to achieve or get through something. For example: "Greg used brute force to open the stuck door."

Below is an explanation of the different formats you found. I have also linked to an article about hyphens and why they are used sometimes and not other times.

  • brute-force: This is “brute force” used as a compound modifier (similar to an adjective), so it is hyphenated to keep it as a single modifying phrase.

  • Brute Force: This is a title of a product and is written with title case for that reason.

  • bruteforce: This is again the name of a product, that the trademark holders have chosen to spell as one word.

Hyphens have many uses but in this case the focus is on how they are used with Compound Adjectives. When multiple Adjectives come directly before a noun they are known as compound modifiers and they can be hyphenated. They do not have to be hyphenated however as you can see in the first two examples you provided being technically correct either way.

A more in-depth explanation as to when to and not to use hyphens can be found here

  • @Catija I meant to remove that part must have missed that section. – Aaron Sep 2 '15 at 17:13
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    This is a good answer, but I feel like the answer should focus on the issue of compound adjectives, as that is the primary case where a difference may be seen. Going through the examples before going through the explanation seems likely to confuse to me. – KRyan Sep 2 '15 at 18:26
  • +1 for pointing out that #3 is not really a viable option; it's a one-time portion of a proper name. – J.R. Sep 2 '15 at 19:02
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    Regarding your first entry, I believe "brute" is actually an adverb modifying "force": (brute + force) + attack versus (brute + attack) + (force + attack). It implies that the force is brutal, as in pounding on every possible combination, versus an "intelligent" attack (such as a dictionary or hybrid attack) that only tries certain more likely combinations. – Doktor J Sep 2 '15 at 19:23
  • You'll get my upvote if you point out that when being used as an NP in it's own right - as opposed to as a modifier - it won't be hyphenated. – Araucaria Sep 3 '15 at 12:34
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You'll find that English evolves over time. Sometimes two frequently-paired words become oft-hyphenated when they are used as a common, descriptive phrase. Those two words may eventually evolve further and morph into a compound word.

When English evolves like this, the good news is that there is no "wrong" answer.

I did a brute-force search through the literature, and found examples both with and without a hyphen.

Susan Snedaker wrote in 2003:

This type of attack is also called a brute force attack because the hacker keeps hammering away at the account until it cracks.
Source: How to Cheat at Managing Windows Small Business Server 2003: In the Land of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man is King

But the hyphenated version seemed much more common, like this one by James M. Stewart:

A brute-force attack is designed to try every possible valid combination.
Source: CompTIA Security+ Review Guide: Exam SY0-301

When I searched Google books for the compound word version, the results were rather interest-
ing. Time and time again, Google was returning a hit for bruteforce attack, yet the book would spell
the term like this: brute-force attack. Why the discrepancy? Because when the search-term word happened to be located near the end of a line, Google seemed to interpret the hyphen as a symbol to break the word at the right-hand margin (much like I did with the word "interesting" at the top of this paragraph). Here are a couple screenshots to show what I mean:

enter image description here enter image description here

I did manage to find two instances where the term was used as a single, unhyphenated word. Take this with a grain of salt, but those two were in:

  • Handbook of Research on Wireless Security, edited by Yan Zhang, Jun Zheng, Miao Ma

  • A to Z Email Hacking and Security, by Rajendra Maurya

So maybe Asian writers are on the leading edge of making bruteforce a single word?

I would go with the hyphenated term for now, but only because it seems to be most prevalent, not because the others are wrong.

I'll close with this excerpt from a blogger who also happens to be a dictionary editor:

With terms that are still changing, it is not easy to say whether it is definitively one word or two. The same person might write humblebrag on one occasion and humble brag on another, but in both cases the exact same meaning is intended and understood. The only difference is a matter of spelling. Humble brag is no less a word than humblebrag...


NOTE: The scope of this answer applies to the one framed by the O.P. (namely, computer security, as in: brute force algorithm, brute-force cracking, etc.) However, there are times when this two-word phrase isn't used adjectively. In those cases, a hyphen would be unwarranted: The thief used brute force to open the door.

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