English English language Grammar Punctuation Usage


Q: I turn to you to resolve a matter of some debate at the office. The question of the day: Which of the following is correct when it comes to proper use of hyphens? (1) “The project will create an estimated 300 full- and part-time jobs.” (2) “The project will create an estimated 300 full and part-time jobs.” Please help before we hyperventilate over hyphens.

A: We vote for option 1: “full- and part-time jobs.” The second part of the compound adjective “full-time” has been dropped, but the hyphen remains.

Keep in mind, though, that this is a matter of style, not grammar, and we’re talking about the commonly observed convention in published writing.

We’ll quote The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.): “When the second part of a hyphenated expression is omitted, the hyphen is retained, followed by a space.”

The Chicago Manual gives these examples: “fifteen- and twenty-year mortgages” … “Chicago- or Milwaukee-bound passengers.”

Hyphenated terms for ages are treated similarly, as the manual notes. It gives the example “a group of eight- to ten-year-olds.”

But when the two hyphenated expressions form “a single entity,” the manual notes, there’s no intervening space, as in “a five-by-eight-foot rug.”

If you think your readers might find it odd or even confusing to see a hyphen hanging out at the end of a word, you could always write “full-time and part-time jobs.” There’s no crime in using “time” twice in one sentence.

Going  back to your example, note that hyphens are always used in the compound adjectives “full-time” and “part-time” (as in “She gets a full-time salary for part-time work”).

However, “full time” and “part time” aren’t generally hyphenated as adverbs (“She works full time, not part time”), though you’ll find differing opinions here.

If you use the unhyphenated forms, don’t insert a hyphen just because a part has been omitted. Example: “She doesn’t know whether she works full or part time.”

We answered a similar question about hyphenation a few years ago on our blog. In that case, a part was omitted from a solid (not a hyphenated) compound.

The Chicago Manual’s example for a case like this is “both under- and overfed cats.” This works, however, only when the second part of the compound (“fed” in this case) is the same in both words.

We’ve had many other posts about hyphenation, including one about why Spider-Man has a hyphen and another about hyphenated Americans. We also had a brief summary a few years ago about the use of hyphens.

In case you’re curious, English adopted “hyphen” from late Latin in the early 1600s,  but the word is ultimately derived from a cup-shaped Greek symbol placed under a compound to show that it should be read as one word, not two. (In Greek, “hyphen” means “under one.”)

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