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Suspended Hyphens

By Judy Vorfeld

Welcome to the world of sus­pended hyphens. When one or more hyphen­ated adjec­tives** has a com­mon basic ele­ment and this ele­ment is shown only with the last term, insert a sus­pend­ing hyphen after each of the incom­plete adjec­tives to indi­cate a rela­tion­ship with the last term.

What does a sus­pended hyphen look like? Have you ever seen a word in a group fol­lowed by a hyphen and a space that looks strange? Like this:

ABC Mortgage Company offers spe­cial rates and han­dling of fif­teen– and thirty-year mortgages.

Studies have deter­mined the dis­tinc­tions between right– or left-brain functions.

Here are more exam­ples (NOTE: some­one with an eagle eye noticed that there was an en dash after some words rather than a hyphen how­ever they don’t appear as en dashes in the HTML or Visual ver­sion of WordPress, so I am stumped):

  • A three– or four-color glossy cover
  • Two– and four-wheel drive
  • Pre– and post-war
  • First-, second-, and third-graders
  • 25-, 35-, 45-, and 55-year-olds

If you don’t like using sus­pended hyphens, why not re-cast their sen­tences to avoid them? Example: using the head­ing of this arti­cle, you could recast to say, “There will be a delay of between two and six days.”

** Adjectives: Word that describes what kind, how many, or which one. Adjectives can be sin­gle words or a group of words. They mod­ify the mean­ings of nouns and pronouns.

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