Can ‘smart home’ and similar phrases be adjectives if followed by a noun, or do they become complements?

I’m having some confusion here as I’ve been tasked with checking that some texts fit a style guide for work, and it requires that two adjectives directly preceding a noun be hyphenated, e.g. ‘well-dressed woman’. That example is straightforward enough for me, but I have no clue how far it extends.

I’m seeing a lot of cases of ‘smart home experience’, ‘smart home offering’ and ‘home security provider’. ‘Variable commission basis’ is another one that’s stumping me. Should these be hyphenated? The Oxford dictionary only lists smart home as a noun, but if it’s describing the noun after it, would it not count as an adjective? Or are these words a complement in these instances?

I’m terrible at breaking down sentences, and as much as I’ve tried, I can’t seem to get used to this. Any advice would be much appreciated.


As your question suggests, the rules for hyphenation are largely a matter of style rather than correctness. It is common to hyphenate a compound adjective derived from a compound noun, in particular if there may be some confusion when the hyphen is omitted.

None of the examples you have given seem especially prone to misunderstanding, but an argument could be made to hyphenate any of them. For example, is a “smart home experience” referring to the experience of a smart home, or a home experience that is itself “smart”? Saying a “smart-home experience” would eliminate that confusion.

Since you are doing this for work with a style guide that dictates a hyphen in a compound adjective, that’s what I would recommend you do.

Leaving out the hyphen is becoming increasingly common in cases where the intended meaning is assumed to be understood by the reader, as seen in the Ngram of “fast-food restaurant” versus “fast food restaurant.” Note that despite a relative decrease in usage, the former (with the hyphen) is still more common.

Source : Link , Question Author : user349281 , Answer Author : geekahedron

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