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In the dark, deep underground

Posted by Henry on May 13, 2003

In Reply to: Re: Grammar mavens - a question posted by ESC on May 13, 2003

: : : "Coal-mine subsidence means the collapse of an underground coal mine resulting in damage to a surface structure."

: : : I made "coal mine" (the noun) two words because that's the way the United Mine Workers do it. I hyphenated "coal-mine" (the adjective) using the compound modifier rule in the AP Stylebook. Am I right or wrong?

: : It's certainly the way I would have done it - so we're either both right, or ....

: I think we're right. I have some engineers editing my copy (heaven help me).

Pairs of nouns like coal and mine usually have a relationship which evolves with time. As they get closer, they are joined together by a hyphen. If the relationship endures, they combine to form a single compound word.

As there is no formal announcement of a change in status, there may well be differing opinions on the relationship of two words at a particular time, a conservative one representing the past and a more progressive one representing the future. Rather than describe your spelling as right or wrong, it may be better to describe it as conservative or progressive.

In either case, it is better to be consistent throughout your piece. I don't understand why you define coal-mine as an adjective.