Sally alerted her accountant to four to five digit revenue discrepancies in the budget.

Should it be:

...to four to five digit revenue discrepancies

or with a suspended hyphen:

...to four- to five-digit revenue discrepancies

  • 1
    I've always used #1 except for large (>20) numbers, but I'd be interested to see what others have to say about this.
    – maxton
    Jun 20 '14 at 22:00
  • #3 and #4 make no sense whatsoever to me. Why would you hyphenate completely separate words in a sentence? Would you ever even consider writing, “It happened three-or-four-hours ago”? Surely not. Jun 20 '14 at 22:49
  • @maxton, thanks. I updated the question and example to make it more clear.
    – Ryan
    Jun 21 '14 at 12:47
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I agree, but my example wasn't very helpful. Could you take a look at the updated example? Thanks.
    – Ryan
    Jun 21 '14 at 12:48
  • 3
    Aha! Now that’s an entirely different question, since now the numbers are part of a compound adjective, which is where hyphens become appropriate. Yes, I would use a suspended hyphen in those cases. Unfortunately, though, the question as it is asked now is a duplicate of at least a few others: this one and this one. Jun 21 '14 at 12:51

In your new use case, the phrase is being used as an adjective, so you do need the hyphens.

Sally alerted her accountant to four- to five-digit revenue discrepancies in the budget.

There seem to be a couple questions here, and I'll address them all, plus another error.

There is no reason at all to use hyphens here. It's Four digits, and four digits ahead, making it a range doesn't add hyphens.

I was taught to spell out integers less than 10, and ten or more when used together, so four to five digits, or nine to ten digits, 20 to 30 digits. Of course, for informal writing, just the numbers will be fine, and you can usually get away with using a hyphen instead of to: 4-5 digits.

Finally, I don't think digits is the word you want here. A digit is just a character, a single glyph. If the other students average 50, four digits ahead would mean that Sally regularly finishes with a score of 500,000. You are looking for points or percentage points, depending on how the work is scored.

So the whole sentence you're looking for is

Out of 100, Sally regularly finishes four to five points ahead of her classmates.

  • 1
    I was taught (I'll see if I can find an MLA or APA reference) to spell out numbers ten or less, and use digits for the larger numbers except where they occur in the same phrase: thus "five cars", "20 cars", but "between five and fifteen cars". Jun 21 '14 at 3:19
  • Great points. What if the "digit" term actually described something else, like bonuses or revenue? Or if it were preceded by "to"? Consider the following: "Sally alerted her accountant to four to five digit revenue discrepancies in the budget." Would your answer remain the same?
    – Ryan
    Jun 21 '14 at 6:09
  • @Ryan; No, the answer would be different (and you probably would include a suspended hyphen). But there are hundreds of possible questions in this area; we really can't answer all of them in comments. Could you please edit the question to ask what you really want to know? Jun 21 '14 at 12:00
  • @TimLymington, thanks for the advice. I updated the question to better reflect the my real life sentence structure. I didn't expect there to be different answers to the example proposed. Do you still advise a suspended hyphen?
    – Ryan
    Jun 21 '14 at 12:52
  • 1
    Do you have a citation for not using the hyphen on the first (or apparently all-but-last) item? If you check out the various linked/duplicate questions, their answers cite style guides that stipulate the suspended hyphen.
    – John Y
    Jun 21 '14 at 13:25

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