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line-up or line up?

July 13, 2020

I’m still feeling pleased (and relieved) that Tottenham Hotspur managed to beat Arsenal in yesterday’s match at White Hart Lane and this morning I was wallowing in that triumph by reading all the match reports I could find online. While indulging in this pleasurable activity I was brought up short by the following, from John Verrall’s report on the HITC football website: ‘The Portuguese boss opted to line-up in a 4-4-3 formation…’

Those italics are mine, to draw attention to that annoying redundant hyphen. What’s it doing there? Line up is a phrasal verb; it doesn’t need a hyphen any more than come in, go away, lie down, give up, hand over or fall down need hyphens. In fact a hyphen is not just unnecessary but plain wrong, as can be seen from the fact that phrasal verbs can be split up: Verral could have said that Mourinho opted to line his team up in a 4-4-2 formation and where could the hyphen go then?

Line-up could have a hyphen in some cases: when it is used as a noun (it was easy to pick him out from the police line-up). In that case, though, it’s pronounced differently: the stress falls on the first syllable when it’s a noun-phrase, but when it’s a phrasal verb the stress is either evenly-placed or falls slightly more on up.

Verral’s not alone in this error. I am seeing more and more misplaced hyphens. A cashpoint near me has a message telling me I can top-up my phonecard there. No I can’t. I can top it up. Without a hyphen.

This might be a trivial complaint but it’s the sort of thing that sets my teeth on edge. Maybe I should get-out more. I mean get out!

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  1. Simon Carter permalink

    But should it be line up or lineup? The BBC show Late Night Line-Up Was hyphenated.

  2. If it’s a verb it has to be line up. If it’s a noun, it could be line-up or lineup. A lot of these noun phrases tend to lose their hyphen once they’ve really bedded in.

  3. Simon Carter permalink

    I can’t explain this but somehow lineup feels right but looks wrong. Some sort of grammatical dissonance?

  4. mikewilliamsuk permalink

    This is very interesting, I struggle a lot with hyphenation. I have the same problem with log-in / log-on for a computer. Is it logon, log-on or logon? Do you give someone their log in details so they can log on? Do they have different meanings or are they entirely interchangeable?

  5. John Dunn permalink

    When I was first learning how to spell in primary school, I remember being taught that ‘to-day’ was an acceptable alternative to ‘today’, though I doubt if anybody thinks that nowadays. In general hyphens are being used less and less in English, though they remain customary when two separate words are joined to make an adjective. Hence ‘log-in details’, though even here I suspect that some people, especially in American English, would prefer to write it as a single word. There is often a choice, but I find that hyphens can make words easier to decode, especially when they come between two vowels (line-up, co-operate) or when they make clear the boundary between different parts of a word (log-in, co-working).

  6. Mark Brafield permalink

    I’m with you on this Brandon; it makes my blood boil. I seem to remember reading about 6 months ago that the OED had finally caved in, and the official spelling of ’email’ (formerly e-mail) now no longer contained the hyphen. The explanation given was that this was nothing to do with habit, just the simple laziness of having to insert the hyphen at the keyboard. Needless to say, dinosaur that I am, I resolutely insist on keeping the hyphen in the spelling every time.

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