Dear Dr. Quible, I recently stumbled upon your “Hyphen and Apostrophe Usage” document after searching Google for a solution to the timeless “up-to-date” grammar problem. I read and re-read your solution several times but it is not very clear.
A strategy that generally helps determine whether or not an expression should be hyphenated is to say to yourself, “It isn’t a well plan, nor is it a developed plan; rather, it is a well-developed plan.” Another example involves the expression “up to date” that precedes the noun it modifies. For example, it isn’t “up book, to book, nor date book.” Therefore, the expression “up-to-date book” is hyphenated. On the other hand, the book that is up to date isn’t hyphenated because the adjective phrase goes after the word it modifies.
This seems a bit verbose and confusing. Couldn’t you have just said, “if ‘up-to-date’ precedes a noun (meaning an adjective), then there is a hyphen. If it comes after a noun, there is no hyphen.” Or, a shorter version would be, “only use a hyphen if the word is an adjective.”
I’m not even going into the whole “children’s coat’s” thing (WTF):
Children’s coats will be on sale next week. (One can say, “the coats of children”; therefore, the expression “children’s coats needs to be made a plural possessive by adding the apostrophe and “s” to “coats.”