Phrasal adjectives

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A phrasal adjective (also known as an adjective phrase or compound adjective) is a phrase that modifies a noun.

Phrasal adjective hyphenation

When a phrasal adjective precedes a noun, it usually takes a hyphen or, for phrases of three or more words, hyphens. This makes things easier for your reader and helps prevent miscues—for example:

razor-sharp wit

over-the-top characters

larger-than-life personality

The same phrases are unhyphenated when they come after what they modify—for example:

His wit was razor sharp.

The characters were over the top.

His personality was larger than life.

We make exceptions for phrasal adjectives beginning with -ly adverbs. These are conventionally unhyphenated—for example:

poorly run bank

closely held positions

When two closely related phrasal adjectives have similar ending elements, remove the ending element from the first phrase and leave the hyphen, like so:

the four- or five-year-old girl

Phrasal adjectives and units

When a phrasal adjective denotes an amount, a number, or a duration, the unit is singular—for example:

the four-story, 50-unit complex

65.5-million-dollar projection