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Is it allowed to have multiple hyphens in one word? I want to use the word semi-self-sustaining in the sentence

However, the ability to produce semi-self-sustaining stations is possessed by up to a quarter of all nations.

Should we use semi-selfsustaining or avoid it by using partially self-sustaining?

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2 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

In ‘The Penguin Guide to Punctuation’, R L Trask identifies three cases in which a hyphen is required after a prefix. One of them is where a prefix is added to a word which already contains a hyphen. His examples are non-bribe-taking politicians, his pre-globe-trotting days, non-stress-timed languages and an un-re-elected politician.

In your example, self-sustaining is a word which already contains a hyphen and to which you wish to add the prefix semi-. The resulting semi-self-sustaining is consistent with Trask’s advice.

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Do note that these forms are hard to parse and that people tend to avoid them. The google books search for Trask's examples give 5, 1, 8 and 0 results respectively, from the whole corpus. –  Unreason Oct 26 '11 at 12:26
    
@ Jasper: It's the only one most people need. I always try to recommend it whenever anyone mentions Lynne Truss. –  Barrie England Oct 26 '11 at 12:32
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I don't personally think that using multiple hyphens is a general problem. I have often seen words like "four-year-old" and the like to make an example.

Since self-sustaining is written with a hyphen, I would go for semi-self-sustaining.

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isn't "four-year-old" an example where no hyphens at all were needed? eg "four year old" has the same (or clearer) meaning? –  oxinabox Oct 26 '11 at 12:22
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@oxinabox I usually see the hyphens when it's being used to modify a noun, like a four-year-old red wine. –  Yamikuronue Oct 26 '11 at 13:12
    
I fail to see, how that is better than "four year old red wine" Perhaps this merits a question in it's own right. –  oxinabox Oct 26 '11 at 13:37
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