Suspended Compound (Grammar)

fountain pen and notebook

In English grammar, a suspended compound is a set of compound nouns or compound adjectives in which an element common to all members is not repeated. Also called suspensive hyphenation.

A hyphen and a space follow the first element of a suspended compound. (A hyphen with a space after it is called a hanging hyphen.)

Examples and Observations

  • The difference between the pre- and post-test scores is the so-called learning gain.
  • More injuries are caused by falls from a three- or four-foot height than by falls from tall extension ladders.
  • More than half of three- and four-year-old children in the U.S. attend preschool.
  • Several arguments support the idea that there is a fundamental difference between short- and long-term memory.
  • At the Paperback Exchange, books of all kinds can be exchanged for first- and second-hand books in English.
  • Cyrus McCormick, the head of International Harvester, typified nineteenth- and twentieth-century industrialists' understanding of manliness.​


Microsoft Manual of Style: Do not use suspended compound adjectives unless space is limited. In a suspended compound adjective, part of the adjective is separated from the rest of the adjective, such as 'first-' in 'first- and second-generation computers.' If you must use suspended compound adjectives, include a hyphen with both adjectives. Avoid forming suspended compound adjectives from one-word adjectives.

Amy Einsohn: Suspended compounds of the form 'water-based and -soluble paint' are licit but likely to confuse readers; substitute 'water-based and water-soluble paint.'