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I'm writing a help document for a website that tests people. In much of the copy for the website, I've referred to "multiple-choice" questions with the hyphen.

Now, I have to write about multiple response questions, which is a slightly different type of question. I was thinking of hyphenating this too, since I already established it with "multiple-choice," but it seems no one hyphenates this word.

I guess it's not a big deal, but would it look weird to have "multiple-choice" and "multiple response" in the same document, or should I hyphenate both types?

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It honestly doesn't matter, as long as you keep all the "multiple-choice"/"multiple choice" and "multiple-response"/"multiple response" consitistant. I have seen both being used with or without hyphens on tests and these really no difference. As long as each one is consistant with itself, there is no issue.

That being said, I would probably use "multiple response" without the hyphen as it further differentiates it from multiple choice. Otherwise the test takers who skim through may think its a multiple choice and just click one answer.

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  • Thanks, I was thinking the same thing as far as differentiating. Sometimes I get too caught up in minor style details. – copywriterZ May 7 '20 at 3:46
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It's not clear from the question if you've literally used quotation marks and a hyphen or not. You should not use both.

Stylistically, it's more common than not to use a hyphen. But some people choose to use quotation marks instead, especially if there are many words being used adjectivally:

It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
It was a "once in a lifetime" moment.

Whichever style is used, the punctuation makes it clear that the group of words before the noun act together to modify the noun.

In the case of a simple two-word modifier, you sometimes don't need to do anything:

She ate an ice cream sandwich.

Although some people would write ice-cream sandwich, there is no real need because ice cream (in open form) is a common noun that's clearly understood by everyone.

Note that if, for some reason, you actually needed to talk about a cream sandwich (whatever that might be) modified by ice, hyphenation would have to be explicitly used so as to make it clear it wasn't meant in the common sense:

He owned an ice sculpture.
She ate an ice cream-sandwich.

I can't think of a scenario where an ice cream-sandwich could be an actual thing (as opposed to an everyday ice cream sandwich), or where ice would be used instead of iced, but if it were an actual thing, then the hyphen in that case would be essential.


Having said all of that, different style guides give different guidance.

The Chicago Manual of Style has a 12-page document on hyphenation, with specific examples and use cases. The most recent version of the guide is behind a paywall, but public versions of older versions can be found. Generally speaking, Chicago recommends that adjectival phrases be hyphenated—but it's document is 12-pages long because of the many specific exceptions.

Generally speaking, the Associated Press is more in favour of open adjectival phrases. But it too recommends hyphenated adjectival phrases if there's any likelihood of misinterpretation.


In your case, I doubt anybody would misunderstand what you mean if you used multiple choice questions or multiple response questions. So, unless you're following a specific rule, there's no semantic reason that would clearly indicate you should hyphenate.

However, whatever you do, be consistent. Either hyphenate both, or don't hyphenate either. (I can think of no stylistic or syntactical reason why one phrase would require different treatment from the other.)

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  • Thanks, I'm not using quotations in the actual document. My question was really if I should hyphenate "multiple-response" as well, since I've already used "multiple-choice" in many other documents and pages for the site (so that's completely established and can't be undone). However, I only found one obscure example of "multiple-response" being used anywhere on the web, so it just seemed odd to me. – copywriterZ May 7 '20 at 6:19
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Forgive the vulgarity, but perhaps the "blank-ass blank" test may be helpful:

If someone told you they bought a "big ass car" (intentionally unhyphenated), and you aren't sure what the person means, you have two choices:

  • Did they buy an "ass car" that's big?

or

  • Did they buy a "car" that's "big-ass"?

Obviously, the adjectival phrase in the second iteration would never be used on its own, and this is a silly example, but I think it helps illustrate where words should be hyphenated together.

In your instance, do you have several (multiple) "choice questions" (nonsensical), or do you have questions that are of the type "multiple-choice"? Similarly, do you have several (multiple) "response questions" (again, nonsensical), or do you have questions of the type "multiple-response"?

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According to the Chicago Manual of Style (You should check your own style guide), hyphens help to improve readability when you're using adjective phrases. In general, you'd hyphenate a phrase like "multiple response" when it appears before the word it modifies, but not afterward.

So: "multiple-response questions" and "questions that are multiple response."

There are exceptions, but I don't think yours is one of them.

(My Chicago Manual is older, 15th edition, and the relevant section there is 7.90.)

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