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I can't remember where or how, but I was taught that one can/should omit the post-hyphen (suffix?) part of a word if it is being grouped with another hyphenated word with the same post-hypen portion. For example, this sentence:

Is the project low-budget or high-budget?


Is the project low- or high-budget?

However, I've rarely seen this done by other people, and was wondering if perhaps it's a localized thing. What's the origin of this rule? Is it commonly accepted? Does it have a name?

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I was never taught that it's required to do this, only that if you do it you have to use the hyphen in both places. (I see a lot of misuses along the lines of "low or high-budget".) – Monica Cellio Dec 19 '11 at 19:40
I think your question is worded slightly better than the duplicate is, and has a slightly more informative answer, but unfortunately there is indeed duplication. – jwpat7 Dec 19 '11 at 19:53
@jwpat7 Yeah, I can't see how this is a dupe myself. The other asks if it's correct, I already know it's correct and none of my three questions are answered by the other. – Matthew Read Dec 19 '11 at 19:57
Ideally, the best parts of duplicate or near-duplicate questions and answer sets should be combined. You might wish to ask in Meta re how that is supposed to happen. Aside from a moderator doing it (which I doubt will happen) you could edit your question in alongside the other question, which is still open. Again, ask in Meta if concerned how it should be done. – jwpat7 Dec 19 '11 at 22:34
up vote 8 down vote accepted

It's a variety of Conjunction Reduction, used to avoid repeating material that's already been said. In this case, it's morphological instead of syntactic, but it's got the same purpose and works much the same way.

Generally, though, once it's been reduced, there is a preferred order for such oppositional phrases as high- or low-budget; low- or high-budget sounds strange. And they can't get too far from one another, either:

  • *He left the low-, but she picked the high-hanging fruit.

is terrible.

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+1 for such a terribly-annoying example of going too far. – FumbleFingers Dec 19 '11 at 19:27
In ‘The Language Instinct’, Steven Pinker points out that front vowels always precede back ones in compounds such as ‘ping-pong’, ‘hip-hop’ and ‘flip-flop’. Something similar may be going on with 'high'/'low'. – Barrie England Dec 19 '11 at 19:44
Oh, it's a lot more complex than Pinker makes out. High vowels precede low, front vowels precede back, and then there are clusters, and the semantics: *hers and his/his and hers, for instance. See Cooper and Ross's "World Order" for the gory details. – John Lawler Dec 19 '11 at 20:48

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