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Capitalization of hyphenated words

Imagine the title of an essay:

A Study of Molecular-Based Reactions A Study of Molecular-based Reactions

(I’m not a scientist so ignore whether or not the title makes sense!)

Which is correct, or more widely accepted? Personally I think the first one looks best.

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@CStaffa: An improper usage could be appropriate in a title if the author is using the title to parody improper usage. Perhaps capitalization wouldn't matter in that case, but I always like my "bad English" to stand out against an otherwise correct construction.

Overall, I agree with gssilver. There are plenty of instances in which Chicago, MLA. and APA do not correspond, i.e. whether or not to include the comma before "and" preceding the last item of a list.

LivingLanguage August 5, 2012, 2:29pm

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@RTFVerTerra: You should use "Journey Through Life of a Striving Blogger". "Trying-hard"
is not English no matter how you capitalize it.

CStaffa January 31, 2012, 5:16pm

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What about "all-metallic device" in the title according to the Chicago Style Manuel?

Please November 27, 2011, 10:26pm

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Man, if it has to be this complicated, then either should be considered acceptable.

Which of you English snobs wants to argue that one?

gssilver May 2, 2009, 11:22am

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Hello everyone. My primary language is not English and I am not a major in English. My college English was only 3 units. I searched for the proper way to capitalized hyphenated words for the slogan of my blog. I am so surprised that this thread don't have a unison voice about it. Here is my slogan:

I am currently using "Journey Through Life of a Trying-Hard Blogger" or should I use
"Journey Through Life of a Trying-hard Blogger"?

Best Regards,
RTFVerterra

rtfverterra April 13, 2009, 9:49pm

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How about Senator-Elect Johnson?

shawski1 March 23, 2009, 7:22am

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What about putting "T-shirt" into a title? According to Marjorie R. Seldon I should write T-Shirt, since the second word is a noun. According to Sandy (Sep-3-08 8:41PM) I should write T-shirt because it constitutes one word together.

Fletch March 4, 2009, 3:26am

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I disagree with the APA comment. If you have the Consise Rules of APA Style, you'll find on p.43 that both are capitalized.

Cinthya November 24, 2008, 12:57am

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Wow! That was baffling.

Necy September 5, 2008, 1:37am

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"Do not capitalize the second element if (a) it is a participle modifying the first element or (b) both elements constitute a single word.

English-speaking People

Medium-sized Library

E-flat Minor

Re-establish"

Thanks for your contribution above, Sandy. Where can I find your reference (quoted above) ? I've looked carefully in Chicago Manual Of Style, on-line.

Anonymous September 4, 2008, 1:03pm

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Hello,

In my opinion, I would not capitalize "based" because of the following rule from the Chicago Manual of Style:

Do not capitalize the second element if (a) it is a participle modifying the first element or (b) both elements constitute a single word.

English-speaking People

Medium-sized Library

E-flat Minor

Re-establish

Self-sustaining Reaction

As Marjorie pointed out, "based" is a past participle. As such, it should not be capitalized (in my opinion).

Sandy September 3, 2008, 8:41pm

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Follow-up: The quote below is from Jeran Dahlquist who contributed above on 05/07/08. It seems to support the notion of keeping the second term (Re-employment) lower case: "if both words together constitute a single word." However, employment is a noun, unlike "ernergizing." Also, I don't know what "equal balance with the first" means. Thanks in advance for any clarification

Jeran Dahlquist said: "As a rule, you capitalize both words if the second word is a noun or adjective, or if it has equal balance with the first word.

You use lower case on the second word if it is a participle modifying the first word, or if both words together constitute a single word (e.g. "Re-energizing")."

bcoffey2 August 27, 2008, 7:45am

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I started a small consulting business and named it
Re-employment Resources. I thought that hyphenating the first term would add clarity to the double vowel "e". And, I find some references that support this notion. The trouble is, many of my customers write back like this: Re-Employment Resources (capitalizing the "e" in employment). I think that APA tells me that the the word "reemployment" doesn't require hyphenation. I'm thinking of withdrawing the hyphen and re-registering the company without. I think it is better-appearing than capitalizing both the Re- and the Employment. Is there some difference in meaning between hyphenated and not ? I don't know where to go to settle this-- some reference that would clear up ? Appreciate feedback from grammar geeks, especially with reference citation for me to look at. Much appreciated

bcoffey2 August 25, 2008, 6:29pm

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In the title, "Molecular-Based Reactions," the element "based" is a verb that functions as an adjective. It is the past participle of the verb "base." The second element of a hyphenated word should be capitalized if it is a noun or an adjective, so in this title, capitalize the first and second elements of the hyphenated word and capitalize the word "reactions" because it is a plural noun in a title. Decisions about capitalization should not be made on how the title looks (right, wrong, or funny) but on principles that are offered in style manuals among other places.

To review a decision like the one above, consider the following: Is the second element an article, a preposition, a coordinating conjunction, or a modifier used in music? No, it is not. You were correct to capitalize the word "based."

Is the second element a proper noun or adjective attached to a prefix? No, "based" is not, but if it were, you would have been right to capitalize it.

Is the word "based" the final element at the end of your title? No, it is not, but if it were, you would be right to capitalize the word "based."

Marjorie R. Seldon May 7, 2008, 12:28pm

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As a rule, you capitalize both words if the second word is a noun or adjective, or if it has equal balance with the first word.

You use lower case on the second word if it is a participle modifying the first word, or if both words together constitute a single word (e.g. "Re-energizing").

jeran May 11, 2007, 3:34pm

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The Chicago Manual of Style says capitalize only the first word, I believe.
http://www.writers.com/tips_titles.html

jeff March 30, 2007, 11:26am

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I think the second one looks BETTER

paul March 4, 2006, 3:28am

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It would depend on the style of writing. If you were following APA you would capitalize only the first word. MLA and Chicago-style have different rules.

anonymous February 24, 2006, 7:41pm

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Yes; that's right. The rule is that being the second word in a hyphenated expression makes no difference to whether a word should be capitalized in a title.

Avrom February 22, 2006, 1:27am

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I guess if it is in the title and you want the words to be capitalized, the first one is correct. This is because "molecular-based" are two words and not one. However, if you are not writing this in the title, neither of them should be capitalized.

-OR-

I could be completely wrong!

Anonymous February 19, 2006, 12:19pm

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Yes     No