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Your Gluten-Free (Gluten Free?) Recipe

People planning Thanksgiving menus may be wondering which gluten-free recipes to prepare for their guests on restricted diets.

But others are simply wondering about the correctness of the hyphen: Is the compound word gluten-free or gluten free?  A client wrote to me today, saying, “Now my husband and I are debating over the correct use [of the hyphen]…aaagghhh! But perhaps I’m the one going crazy.”

Forget the debates and the guttural sounds! Wonder no more!

The Chicago Manual of Style states:

“Compounds formed with free as second element are hyphenated both before and after a noun.”

Chicago provides these examples:

toll-free number
accident-free driver
the number is toll-free
the driver is accident-free

I will add to the list:

the gluten-free recipe
the recipe is gluten-free

Now that we have the answer to this hyphenation question, I can take time to practice making the rice with nuts and raisins I am preparing for Thanksgiving–in place of stuffing, which is not gluten-free. Because I am much better at grammar and punctuation than blanching and sautéing, practice is essential.

Here’s a recipe for punctuation mastery: my course Punctuation for Professionals.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

12 comments on “Your Gluten-Free (Gluten Free?) Recipe”

  • I use these two examples to get my students to understand the difference:

    He’s a hard working man.
    He’s a hard-working man.

    I work in Sweden – mainly with Swedes – and this phenomenon has recently become a problem for Swedish speakers, as English has had more and more influence on Swedish. It’s common to make compound nouns in Swedish, but if you start breaking them up (because it looks more English!) you get some strange results. Here’s one:

    Stekt kyckling lever

    Stekt = fried/kyckling = chicken/lever = both ‘lives’ and ‘liver’

    So as it stands you’ve got a fried chicken that’s come back to life … but it should be:

    Stekt kycklinglever

    If you write it right (!), you’re back in the normal world of fried chicken livers!

    David Richardson

  • Lynn,
    The word that always throws me is “follow-up.” Examples:
    “I need to follow up on that lead. I’ll make follow-up phone calls and emails after the holiday.” Did I punctuate those right?

    I’ve been gluten-free for 11 years – before it was popular. I’m a bit better at grammar & punctuation than basting and baking, too. I like to write more than I like to bite!

  • I am in the LED lighting industry, and I always find myself questioning whether or not to hyphenate phrases like “LED-based,” “energy-efficient,” and “lead-time.”

    Lynn, this directive about phrases ending in “free” is very helpful. I just searched your blog for the word “hyphen” and found several other helpful blog posts. Thanks for these resources!

  • Hello, George. I believe it is important to use the hyphen in “high-speed rail.” After all, you are not describing a high rail or a speed rail. “High-speed” is clearly a combined idea.

    What is the rationale for those in your industry who want to omit the hyphen?


  • Hi, Lisa Marie. I am glad you found my other blog posts on hyphens helpful.

    I would hyphenate “LED-based” and “energy-efficient” before the nouns they modify but leave them open after the nouns.

    I can’t see hyphenating “lead time” unless it is used as an adjective before a noun, like this:

    – We have a lead-time advantage.

    Do my views agree with yours? I generally use “The Chicago Manual of Style” when I have hyphen questions.


  • Lynn, I do agree with your views on hyphenating those three phrases. I handle each of them in the ways you mentioned as well.

    Our company actually does not have any preferred style manual, and I think it would be very helpful if we chose one so that we do not have constant confusion on issues like this!

  • Hi, Lisa Marie. Many companies use “The Associated Press Stylebook,” which comes out yearly in an inexpensive spiral-bound manual. I also like “Microsoft Manual of Style” and “The Gregg Reference Manual.” I use them all.


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