You’ll Love This Hyphen Shortcut

kids readingHyphens are joiners. They create compound words such as editor-in-chief and mother-in-law.

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!

Have a question about punctuation? Please use the Comments section below.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)