Hyphenation: Part III (Suspensive Hyphens)

by Tina Blue
January 19, 2001

This is the third in a series of articles on hyphenation. The first article, "Hyphenation: Part I (Hyphenated Compounds)" focused mainly on how to use hyphens in words and phrases containing numerals or written-out numbers.

The second article, "Hyphenation: Part II (Prefixes)" differentiated between prefixes that usually take hyphens and those that do not.

The present article is concerned with the proper use of the suspensive hyphen. As this is a very circumscribed topic, this article will be uncharacteristically brief, but I will be back to my wordy ways in the next article in this series, when I deal with compound nouns and modifiers.


When hyphenated words occur in sets of two or more, and the first or second part of the compound is used only once, then a suspensive hyphen is used.

~1. For your next assignment you will write a 600- to 800-word explication of one of the following poems.

~2. Cut the cord into two-, four-, and six-inch lengths.

~3. Her writing style was so heavy-handed and -footed that it could only be termed elephantine.

~4. Such sweeping trans-Atlantic and -Pacific projects would require the cooperation of many governments.

~5. For this project we will need 8-, 10-, and 12-foot boards.

WARNING: The suspensive hyphen is what I would call a heavy spice. Use it sparingly.

**NOTE:  In an e-mail comment on this article, Thomas J.Sott added a discussion of even more subtle aspects of usage.  If you would like to know more about the suspensive hyphen, read "More on the Suspensive Hyphen," by Thomas J. Scott.
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