Hyphens also create compound modifiers by joining two or more words that describe something: full-time job, low-income housing.
When you use a hyphen to create modifiers with the same base word, you can take a shortcut by using a suspended hyphen to avoid repeating a word.
Each of these hyphenation examples has a common base word:
The program was designed for fifth-graders and sixth-graders.
We need to make both long-term and short-term plans.
Expect a three-hour to four-hour delay in my arrival.
By using a suspended hyphen, you take a shortcut and use the base word just once:
The program was designed for fifth- and sixth-graders.
We need to make both long- and short-term plans.
Expect a three- to four-hour delay in my arrival.
You also can use a suspended hyphen when the base word comes first:
The company is employee-owned and employee-operated.
Students undertook self-designed and self-executed projects.
Here’s the shortcut:
The company is employee-owned and -operated.
Students undertook self-designed and -executed projects.
Hyphens have many applications, and rules for their use will depend on which writing resource you consult. In general, when a hyphen helps avoid confusion or misunderstanding — or enables you to express something in fewer words — use it!
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