Suspended Compound (Grammar)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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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 festival starts with a parade, followed by the crowning of 'Little Miss Catfish,' who is chosen by drawing a name from among the five- and six-year-old catfish princesses." (Bob Rashid, Gone Fishing. University of Wisconsin Press, 1999)
  • 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.​

Stylistic Advice: Suspended Compounds

"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." (Microsoft Manual of Style, 4th ed. Microsoft Press, 2012)

"Suspended compounds of the form 'water-based and -soluble paint' are licit but likely to confuse readers; substitute 'water-based and water-soluble paint.'" (Amy Einsohn, The Copyeditor's Handbook.

University of California Press, 2000)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Suspended Compound (Grammar)." ThoughtCo, Apr. 25, 2017, thoughtco.com/suspended-compound-grammar-1692010. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, April 25). Suspended Compound (Grammar). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/suspended-compound-grammar-1692010 Nordquist, Richard. "Suspended Compound (Grammar)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/suspended-compound-grammar-1692010 (accessed December 13, 2017).