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There are many books, including two story-books, three picture books, four English books and one Chinese book.

What's the difference between two story books and two story-books? When should the hyphen be used?

  • Where have you seen "story books" and "story-books"? I would simply say "two storybooks", and wouldn't use either of the options you have presented. – J.R. Aug 12 '13 at 8:32
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    @J.R.I read this sentence on an reading book.So that means "story books"and "story-book"are seldom used in America. What about "picture book"?Can we replaced it as"picturebook"? – user48070 Aug 12 '13 at 9:07
  • I would interpret two story books as two separate books each containing stories, while two story-book sounds like a single book which contains two separate stories. As @J.R. pointed out, story book and story-book are a bit strange, and storybook would be more natural. – Walter Aug 12 '13 at 11:54
  • @user48070 "Picturebook" is not common usage. It's another example of the charming inconsistency of the English language I'm afraid. – Nigel Harper Aug 12 '13 at 13:02
  • See english.stackexchange.com/questions/11570/to-hyphenate-or-not for a little information about "when should we be using hyphens?". (to summarize: "it's complicated.") – Hellion Aug 12 '13 at 15:13
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Sometimes when an adjective + noun combination is used very frequently and becomes very common, we make the transition from writing the two as separate words and make them one combined word.

So initially I'm willing to bet that "story book" was correct, just as "picture book" is two words, and "recipe book" is. It is a book that contains recipes, pictures, or stories. This makes perfect sense. But over time when the combination of words becomes very common, we can see evolution such as "story book" to "storybook". "Story book" is no longer correct; we always use "storybook". This hasn't happened to "recipe books" or "picture books", though, for which we always write the words separately. But check back in a couple hundred years and that might have changed. English is always evolving! There's no real way to know which words are written separately and which as a single word, except to learn and memorize them.

Regarding the hyphen, it would never be used in a case like this. We do not use a hyphen to connect the adjective to the noun in the simple case. A story-book doesn't make any sense. However we do use hyphens to connect compound adjectives which then refer to a noun. So if you are talking about a single book which contains two stories, you would call it a "two-story book". That is, a book which contains two stories. If you are referring to two items which are called storybooks, you would simply say "two storybooks". That is, these are storybooks, and I have two of them.

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    For OP, "cookbook" is another example where we have combined two words into one. – The Photon Aug 13 '13 at 16:34

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