3 Cases of Suspensive Hyphenation That Are Missing a Hyphen

By Mark Nichol

When an adjective can be shared between two nouns to form a pair of parallel phrasal adjectives modifying another noun, the first instance of the simple adjective can be elided so that it is implied. However, writers often neglect to provide, in the form of a hyphen, a signpost identifying the elision. Here are three sentences featuring that flaw, followed by a discussion about, and a revision of, each.

1. The film covers the scene’s considerable sprawl, from the sketchy clubs and apartment dwellings to the bands and the drug and booze-fueled chaos that followed them.

This statement refers to drug chaos and booze-fueled chaos. Obviously, the writer means “drug-fueled and booze-fueled chaos” but knows the rule described in the introduction to this post; in this case, fueled has correctly been omitted from drug-fueled, the first of two phrasal adjectives.

However, the first element of the first phrasal adjective must be followed by a hyphen to signal that the elision is taking place: “The film covers the scene’s considerable sprawl, from the sketchy clubs and apartment dwellings to the bands and the drug- and booze-fueled chaos that followed them.”

2. This strategy breaks the training material up into several 2-3 minute videos.

As constructed, this nonsensical sentence refers to something called minute videos; it refers, in quick succession, to several of them and 2–3 of them. The problem is that the writer knows that a hyphen should link a range of numbers (actually, a dash should, but many publications use a simple hyphen, so the point is acceptable) but errs in applying that rule in this case.

This statement is complicated by the need for a phrasal adjective to modify “videos” with a reference to length, and “2-3-minute videos” is obviously not correct. The solution is to replace the symbol indicating a number range with to and refer to “2-minute to 3-minute videos,” though the first instance of minute can be deleted and implied: “This strategy breaks the training material up into several 2- to 3-minute videos.”

3. Why can’t humans hear infra and ultrasound?

Here, the suspensive omission is part of a closed compound. This strategy is technically valid (the proper form is “Why can’t humans hear infra- and ultrasound?”) but in practice often awkward. In this case, forgo the elision: “Why can’t humans hear infrasound and ultrasound?”

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


Share


Leave a comment: