Hyphens, En Dashes, Em Dashes
Q. Dear CMOS, I’m having a disagreement with an editor about hyphenation in one of my soon-to-be-published short stories. I hate the idea of one of my stories seeing print with a grammatical error. I’m in desperate need of an official CMOS ruling, just to make sure we get this right! The section in question is as follows: “Most people only know the one reality they’ve lived. You’re getting front-row seats to three more.” Should “front-row seats” be hyphenated in this instance?
A. Yes. Please see CMOS 7.85:
When compound modifiers (also called phrasal adjectives) such as high-profile or book-length precede a noun, hyphenation usually lends clarity. With the exception of proper nouns (such as United States) and compounds formed by an adverb ending in ly plus an adjective (see 7.86), it is never incorrect to hyphenate adjectival compounds before a noun. When such compounds follow the noun they modify, hyphenation is usually unnecessary, even for adjectival compounds that are hyphenated in Webster’s (such as well-read or ill-humored).
Thus “seats in the front row” but “front-row seats.”