Brandon Robshaw: English Usage #6

Line-up or line up?

Still feeling pleased (and relieved) that Tottenham Hotspur had managed to beat Arsenal at White Hart Lane, I was wallowing in that triumph by reading all the match reports I could find online. While indulging in this pleasurable activity I was brought up short by the following, from John Verrall's report on the HITC football website: "The Portuguese boss opted to line-up in a 4-4-3 formation…"

Those italics are mine, to draw attention to that annoying redundant hyphen. What's it doing there? "Line up" is a phrasal verb; it doesn't need a hyphen any more than "come in", "go away", "lie down", "give up", "hand over" or "fall down" need hyphens. In fact, a hyphen is not just unnecessary but plain wrong, as can be seen from the fact that phrasal verbs can be split up: Verral could have said that Mourinho opted to line his team up in a 4-4-2 formation and where could the hyphen go then?

"Line-up" could have a hyphen in some cases: when it is used as a noun, e.g. it was easy to pick him out from the police line-up. In that case, though, it's pronounced differently: the stress falls on the first syllable when it's a noun-phrase, but when it's a phrasal verb the stress is either evenly placed or falls slightly more on "up".

Verral's not alone in this error. I am seeing more and more misplaced hyphens. A cashpoint near me has a message telling me I can "top-up" my phonecard there. No I can't. I can top it up. Without a hyphen.

This might be a trivial complaint but it's the sort of thing that sets my teeth on edge. I need to get-out. I mean get out!

Dr Brandon Robshaw lectures for the Open University in Philosophy, Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. He has written several children’s books including a philosophical YA novel, The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers. He and his family starred in BBC2’s Back in Time for Dinner. You can find his website here.