Punctuation Quiz #2: Suspensive Hyphenation

By Mark Nichol

All but one of the following sentences demonstrate incorrect style for suspensive hyphenation; revise the style of the number as necessary:

1. Read these tips for space and time-efficient gardening.

2. The issue touches on the tension between middle- and upper-class values.

3. You’re either over- or underwhelmed.

4. This ferry is for Norway-and-Sweden-bound passengers.

5. The marketing campaign targets the 18-to-34-year-old demographic.

Solutions

When the last word in each of two or more hyphenated phrasal adjectives is the same, all instances but the last may be omitted when it can be clearly understood to apply to all, but retain the hyphen after the words preceding the elision, followed by a letter space.

1.
Original: Read these tips for space and time-efficient gardening.
Correct : Read these tips for space- and time-efficient gardening.

The tips pertain to gardening that is efficient in both space and time, so space should be hyphenated to indicate that the instance of efficient that would normally follow it has been elided.

2.
Original: The issue touches on the tension between middle- and upper-class values.
Correct : The issue touches on the tension between middle- and upper-class values.

Elision of the first use of class is correct.

3.
Original: You’re either over- or underwhelmed.
Correct : You’re either overwhelmed or underwhelmed.

When two words have the same root, spell both words out. (Some guides allow such constructions, such as shown in “He’s scheduled both pre- and postgame briefings,” but it’s best to spell out both words in such a phrase.)

4.
Original: This ferry is for Norway-and-Sweden-bound passengers.
Correct : This ferry is for Norway- and Sweden-bound passengers.

Even if the statement refers to people bound for both Norway and Sweden, rather than one or the other, those passengers cannot visit both countries simultaneously, so they, along with those bound for one country or the other, are referenced in this revision. (“This ferry is for Norway- or Sweden-bound passengers” implies that the destination could be either Norway or Sweden, a statement that would mean the precise destination is unknown.)

5.
Original: The marketing campaign targets the 18-to-34-year-old demographic.
Correct : The marketing campaign targets the 18- to 34-year-old demographic.

The basic rule applies for number ranges. (However, the sentence could be revised to “The marketing campaign targets 18- to 34-year-olds” or “The marketing campaign targets people ages 18–34.”)

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4 Responses to “Punctuation Quiz #2: Suspensive Hyphenation”

  • Dale A. Wood

    Mr. Nichol, I am very pleased with this article. Thank you. I am particularly pleased with number three and number four because your revised versions show precise expression that is both mathematical and logical. You pay attention to the fact that English words have roots and often prefixes or suffixes, and this is something that many people do not pay attention to anymore.** Also, there are important things to express about whether the people are going to a) Norway and Sweden, b) one or the other but not both, or c) Norway or Sweden, but we don’t know which one, and it might be Norway and then Sweden, or Sweden and then Norway.

    **I have read that over 100 years ago, scholars used to dispute whether a Latin prefix with a Greek root, or vice-versa, was acceptable or not, or a Latin root with a Greek root in a compound word. A significant number of them took the view that this was like mixing oil with water. A examples of the correct way to do it this are in the words “telescope”, “telegraph”, “telephone”, and “television”, where all of the roots are Greek, and men like Samuel F. B. Morse and Alexander Graham Bell did not mix root words from different languages.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Here’s are two other examples of not splitting up compound words in a strange way: “That is either a telegram or a radiogram, but I cannot tell which,” and “What do you want, a gyroscope or a gyrocompass?”

  • Dale A. Wood

    Sorry about the typographical error in my previous note!

  • venqax

    Also teletubby. Tele from the Greek mixed with tubby, a diminutive from Middle Low German. This is a particularly bad example because in general, the teletubbies say that you should follow the rules, then they go and hypocritically combine elements from different etymological sources thereby not doing the proper thing. If they thought no one would notice or let them get away with it, they were wrong!

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