Gluten-Free OR Gluten Free ????

I had a friend ask the other day if it is gluten-free or gluten free? In other words, is the phrase hyphenated or not?

Being a grammar nerd, I immediately started thinking about it. What I have been doing, without giving it a whole lot of forethought, is using a hyphen when I use the phrase as an adjective and no hyphen when I am saying something is gluten free.

i.e. I love Udi’s gluten-free bread. Udi’s bread is gluten free.

I wasn’t sure if this was right or not; it just made sense to me when writing. And I can’t guarantee that I have been entirely consistent with this practice, but when asked outright, I realized that is what I’ve been trying to do.

So to settle this very weighty matter once and for all, I consulted two friends who happen to be professional editors.

Kelly‘s response was:

You are right according to APA style, lady.

When two words are combined as adjectives, you hyphenate. If they are used alone, no hyphen.

I’m applauding you.

And June agreed:

Yes. That is also how I have learned it, AP Style, APA Style, possibly even Chicago style! I think you’re good.


So there you have it!

And also? Pat me on the back and give me a gold star.



  1. Denise says

    Hadn’t thought about the ‘2 words combined as adjectives’ thing before. Neat.
    Your attention to good grammar, spelling, & avoiding typos is appreciated, Jo-Lynne!

  2. Sowmia says

    That’s interesting to know you should hyphenate when they are adjectives . However, in your example about Udi’s bread, gluten-free is being used as an adjective in both sentences. In the first example, the adjective precedes the noun “bread.” In the second example, the adjective follows the noun “bread.” Regardless of placement, the term is still an adjective because it describes a noun. So in both of those sentences, I believe you would need to hyphenate “gluten-free.”
    (I am an educator!) :)

  3. Daphne says

    I agree with Sowmia that in both cases the term is an adjective. However this doesn’t prove that the term requires a hyphen in both positions, just that the explanation isn’t accurately expressed. So let’s say that it has a hyphen when preceding the noun it describes, or to use the grammatical term, in the attributive position (as part of a noun phrase), and not if it does not precede a noun. The latter is known as the predicative position, where it complements the verb.
    By the way, I am also an educator, and in addition a professional proofreader and copy editor. :)

    • Jen says

      I offer the same argument as Sowmia. I have been struggling with this particular issue for a long time. I’m no professional in the field of grammar and syntax (while I still consider myself a Grammar Nazi of sorts), but the fact that “gluten-free” doesn’t *always* have the hyphen does not sit with me well. The two original sample sentences above both contain “gluten-free” as a dual modifier, correct? That tends to be the rule I follow when I write. But I always stumble over what I believe to be dual modifiers (albeit non-hypenated ones) in published works and just end up as confused as ever.

      Thanks for your explanation, Daphne. I still don’t know if I understand as much. Is it still technically okay to write every instance of the phrase using a hypen?

  4. Jen says

    So, I asked a friend of mine who is a professional editor/proofreader, and she said the following:

    I suspect they are looking at a hard copy [of AP Stylebook] rather than the online subscription.

    Here’s the online entry for gluten:

    gluten (Source: AP Stylebook, Food section): A protein found in wheat and some other grains; lends structure to bread and other baked goods. Also, gluten-free.

    Here’s part of the online entry for hyphens:

    Many combinations that are hyphenated before a noun are not hyphenated when they occur after a noun: The team scored in the first quarter. The dress, a bluish green, was attractive on her. She works full time. His attitude suggested that he knew it all.

    But when a modifier that would be hyphenated before a noun occurs instead after a form of the verb to be, the hyphen usually must be retained to avoid confusion: The man is well-known. The woman is quick-witted. The children are soft-spoken. The play is second-rate.

    Here are some Ask the Editor entries:

    Q. Is it “pain-free” or “pain free”? from King of Prussia, Pa. on Jan 19, 2012
    A. Words with the compounding form -free are hyphenated: pain-free.

    Q. Should the word toll free have a hyphen? from IA on Mar 24, 2007
    A. “Toll-free” is generally used as a compound adjective and should be hyphenated.

    Q. “You’re debt free.” or “You’re debt-free.”? from San Antonio on Dec 15, 2011
    A. It’s debt-free. Terms with the combining form -free are hyphenated.


    Bottom line: I felt uncomfortable about not hyphenating “gluten-free” from the beginning, and it looks like the hyphen is a must. Keep it in at all times!

    • says

      THANK YOU for this. I’ve always hyphenated it; although I freely take liberties with our dear language, daily. I do tend toward what feels right in my gut. But I’m building a website that has this phrase in the title and so I went a’lookin’ to be sure. Your comment has me convinced – it shall remain hyphenated at all times. Now to school the blogger for whom I am building the site. She will love this, too.

      Thank you, Thank YOU, THANK YOU. I said.


  5. Fiona Thompson says

    I think you’ll find in this case free is a verb isn’t it? Personally I prefer it with the hyphen, but if ‘free’ is a verb, then APA ordains that you should leave it out.

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