>Trying to produce our latest milestone report we argued about the >correct usage of the dash '-' to combine words. What you're talking about is generally referred to as a "hyphen", rather than a dash. Hyphen is an ASCII character (#45 decimal), and appears on QWERTY keyboards to the right of zero; typically it's also used for the minus sign and for numerous textual separation duties. Whereas a dash -- frequently typed as two --- or even three --- successive hyphens -- is used like a parenthesis. See Lewis Thomas's classic "On Punctuation" for further details about the dash, which is more of a typesetter's punctuation than a typist's. >The question was when to use it and what semantic changes it implies. >An example would be 'user-interface' vs. 'user interface' or >'user-model' vs. 'user model'. Hyphenation rarely has any semantic effect, and even then it's arbitrary, not regular. It's similar to the problem of whether to hyphenate German compound nouns. The unmarked case in German is to write them without spaces, and in English to separate them with spaces. But in both cases, some are hyphenated. Which ones is rarely a matter of logic; these conventions (like ASCII itself) come about arbitrarily and rarely have any advantage other than one's own familiarity. When different people find themselves feeling familiar with different versions, you get variation. But no regular semantics. >My working hypothesis is that the dash implies that the first word >modifies the second, whereas without dash the second modifies the first. Intriguing hypothesis, that. Very nice and regular. Unfortunately, there's as much evidence for it as against it. Plus, "modification" doesn't help you in pinning it down. It's full of largely arbitrary idioms, too. Consider, as a small example, that "Bill's picture" can mean the picture that depicts Bill (somehow) the picture that Bill owns the picture that Bill made (somehow) the picture that Bill sold him the picture that Bill gave you the picture that Bill told me about the picture that Bill lent my wife the picture that Bill spilled Mazola all over that night when we all got stinking drunk etc. >In other words, 'user-interface' means a certain type of interface (the >one for the user) as opposed to 'user interface' which stands for an >aspect of the user, namely its interface. Let's get away from the semantics here for a minute. Many hyphens are needed to follow a rule of English syntax, which says that Noun modifiers [of more than one word] *follow* the noun they modify, whereas [One-word] Noun Modifiers *precede* it. Otherwise known as the "eleven-year-old boy" rule, referring to the minimal pair a boy eleven years old an eleven-year-old boy where the second modifier is morphologically a single word, and its hyphenation reflects that. There's more to the rule, since English can't have number marked on preceding adjectives; e.g, few visit a shoe store to buy a single shoe, but *shoes store is impossible, ditto *eleven-years-old boy. So that's where a lot of the hyphens come from. If a compound noun phrase like "user interface" (which unambiguously means "the interface [[to be] provided] for the user", I'm afraid) is being used to modify another noun, as in the phrase "user-interface design", then it'll be hyphenated to show that it has the following parsing: [[user interface] design], not [user [interface design]], which could be spelled "user interface-design" and would mean some design of interfaces by some user(s). That almost works, except that "user interface design" can be considered to be a three-word compound noun and is equivalent to the first (but not the second) hyphenated sense above. Simple, right? The real problem is that all noun compounding is idiomatic, in English or any language. There is a short list of common semantic relations expressed, but human creativity being what it is, anything at all is possible. And then we just have to cope with how we might want to spell and punctuate it, given the limited resources of writing. >Is this correct >Or is it just the other way around? >Or is it nothing like that? >Can one use both forms? >Or only if one of them does not make sense, so that >it is obvious what is meant? All of the above, for different people and situations. Sorry I can't be more definitive. Of course, you can always adopt your own personal or company standard and see how far you can get with it. Arbitrariness is a game that anybody can play. -------------------------------------------- -John Lawler More grammar Linguistics Program University of Michigan "..and, who knows? Maybe the horse will sing."