My question Is the hyphen in the adjective phrase “just-[past participle]” mandatory? currently stands at +3/-6.

The question has seen some activity in the last few days, but it only received more downvotes. So it does not seem that the downvotes are from an older phrasing of the question.

I tried following the guidelines to asking good questions as much as possible, such as including a title that summarizes the question, including definitions, and being specific.

In order to ask better questions in the future, does anybody know why this question was heavily downvoted?

  • 8
    I can’t say why it’s downvoted. I find orthographic questions — at least the kind which would be covered by a style guide rather than a dictionary — somewhat uninspiring, because in the end it’s a matter of style rather than language (and I know some others here feel similarly), so I neither upvote or downvote them (though I might vote to close if the decision was purely subjective, with no authorities to rely on). But your q definitive does not feel like a -3 question to me.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 5, 2021 at 19:49
  • 4
    Maybe because you use the word 'ungrammatical' for a possible spelling (ie non-grammar) issue? People get really out of joint with things like that despite what merit the content might be.
    – Mitch
    Jul 6, 2021 at 12:47
  • 2
    Nobody other than the person voting can be sure what motivates a particular vote, but in this case the matter is complicated further by the fact that the question has been edited many times and some of the votes may have been prompted by the features of the question that were present in some of the versions but not others.
    – jsw29
    Jul 6, 2021 at 15:46
  • @Mitch This is actually a good point. I removed all references to grammaticality now.
    – hb20007
    Jul 6, 2021 at 19:12

2 Answers 2


Questions about punctuation may run afoul of some EL&U participants' preferences in several ways.

First and most obviously, punctuation is strictly relevant to writing, not to spoken language—and for at least the past sixty years a central tenet of linguistics is that spoken language is language, while writing is merely a kind of artifact of language. It follows that questions about writing in general and punctuation in particular are not really questions about language αυτος. At best they raise a relatively trivial subclass of issues ancillary to developing a scientific appreciation of how language works, and at worst they constitute an actively harmful distraction or impediment to meaningful inquiry.

Second, because systems of punctuation are matters of convention rather than of grammatical rule, particular punctuation choices ultimately reflect stylistic preferences rather than necessity. But preferences are matters of opinion, and opinion-based questions are (mostly) off-topic at EL&U, so some site participants may downvote punctuation questions in order to discourage people from asking them. For those downvoters, asking whether a compound modifier that appears before a noun should be hyphenated may seem as pointless as asking whether writing should proceed horizontally left-to-right, horizontally right-to-left, vertically top-to-bottom, or vertically bottom-to-top.

Third, some people may downvote questions that bore them—and a lot of people find questions about punctuation and other matters of style boring. Moreover, very few people are knowledgeable about the details of multiple style guides, and acquiring such knowledge is both time consuming and (frequently) frustratingly difficult—factors that may encourage them to be even more dismissive of the whole enterprise. After all, if you think that astrology is just booshwah anyway, why knock yourself out trying to master the minutiae of the pseudoscience?

My opinion is that many style questions are legitimate at English Language & Usage. In my view, questions that inquire into the details, the reach, and the internal logic of widespread conventions (such as those that apply regionally or throughout the English-writing world to various matters of punctuation and spelling) are worthwhile and on-topic to the extent that they seek information about a prevailing real-world practice or understanding. Others here disagree—and some of them downvote.


In addition to the excellent list of reasons mentioned by Sven, your question is asking about hyphenating a phrase that would more naturally be placed after the noun: The target can be resolved through one of the record types just mentioned. Since your question doesn't leave room for this option, which I think almost any native speaker would prefer, it is quite likely someone would downvote based on that. There is no need to do this style of hyphenation, and it does not look or sound natural.

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