If multiple hyphenated terms share the same latter half, and I wish to list them without repeating that latter half, how should the hyphens be placed?

For example:

I will be investigating control issues in ground-based, water-based, and air-based robots.

If I do not want to repeat based, could I write:

I will be investigating control issues in ground-, water-, and air-based robots.

Is it correct to just leave a hyphen dangling after ground and water?

If not, how should it be written? I know the original sentence doesn't sound too bad, but I really just want to know the punctuation rule (or the convention in American English if there is no rule).

  • I believe Fowler (perhaps the most renowned of all English style books) recommends omitting the hyphens in such cases. The reasoning behind this is that it is readable enough without hyphens. May 7 '13 at 18:16
  • 3
    I don't believe that omission of hyphens is always going to be unambiguous. "We really have to prepare the ground- and sea-based forces." would be garden-pathy if not ambiguous. May 7 '13 at 18:54
  • 3
    The term for this is suspended hyphen. Wikipedia has a paragraph on it, and we have a dedicated tag.
    – RegDwigнt
    Apr 4 '14 at 22:58
  • 2
    This discussion was really hard to google—but I found it 😅 Jul 4 '18 at 22:37

Burchfield's 1998 edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage says under hyphen, listing its uses:

6 To represent a common second element in all but the last word of a list, e.g. two-, three-, or four-fold.

This usage is perfectly acceptable; and in some cases it's really essential as Edwin Ashworth has commented:

We really have to prepare the ground- and sea-based forces.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.