Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Is it "science fiction writer" or "science-fiction writer"?

by Rob - February 7th, 2008.
Filed under: Uncategorized.

Interesting question, and it came up today as I was asked to vet ad copy for something I’m involved with.

The genre is “science fiction,” with no hyphen, but when used in the phrase “science fiction writer,” “science fiction” then becomes a compound adjective (two or more words that together form a single modifier for a following noun), and so, according to many authorities, they should be hyphenated: “science-fiction writer.”

The classic example from Strunk and White’s The Elements of the Style is this: “He was a member of the leisure class and he enjoyed leisure-class pursuits.”

(How can you tell if two words are a compound adjective? My trick is to rerverse the order and see if they still make sense: “a big red ball” and “a red big ball” are equally comprehensible (although the former perhaps comes more trippingly to the tongue), but while “a science fiction writer” makes sense, “a fiction science writer” does not.)

For many years, one of the principal academic journals in the field, Science Fiction Studies, rendered its name with the hyphen: Science-Fiction Studies. Eventually, though, the editors apparently decided their journal was stuffy and pedantic enough without being picayune about punctuation in the title. :)

And for a time, SFWA was styling its name as “Science-fiction and Fantasy Writers of America,” although that seemed more out of a desire to preserve what I call their “burnt-matchstick” logo (below) after the decision was made to add “and Fantasy” to the organization’s name; the full name is now mostly styled without the hyphen and with two capital Fs.

I tend to use “science-fiction writer” (and “science-fiction novel,” etc.), in normal prose, but on my web site, I usually don’t hyphenate the phrase, as I want all search engines to find me when people search for science fiction writer.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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