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I'm told that both forms below are punctuated correctly with the hyphens. But both phrases have distinctly different meanings. I do not understand the difference.

Full hyphenation: ninth-to-twelfth-floor lights

Suspended hyphenation: ninth- to twelfth-floor lights

What is the difference in meaning between these two phrases (full hyphenation vs suspended hyphenation)?

Thank you.

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    What do you think the difference is?
    – deadrat
    Commented Dec 13, 2015 at 6:17
  • Haven't a clue. If I did, I wouldn't've asked. Commented Dec 13, 2015 at 6:18
  • 1
    I don't either, but you said "... both phrases have distinctly different meanings," so I thought you knew. "ninth- to twelfth floor" is shorthand for "ninth-floor to twelfth-floor", which is synonymous with "ninth-to-twelfth floor." They all mean lights on floors 9, 10, 11, and 12.
    – deadrat
    Commented Dec 13, 2015 at 6:23
  • I was told that they had different meanings. I think the full – rather than suspended – hyphenation looks better, though. Agreed? Commented Dec 13, 2015 at 6:26
  • I am agnostic on this claim. If you're writing for someone else, ask their opinion or consult their manual of style. If you're not so constrained, go with your opinion as long as you're consistent.
    – deadrat
    Commented Dec 13, 2015 at 6:43

1 Answer 1

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There’s only a possible difference I can see.

Imagine a building where you converted the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth floors into a single, high-ceiling, floor. If you did not want to renumber the floors above, you could call such floor the ninth-to-twelfth floor. And its lights would be the ninth-to-twelfth-floor lights.

The ninth- to twelfth-floor-lights would be the lights of the individual ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth floors in an unconverted building.

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