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The Associated Press replied to me and said the suspended compound below is correct exactly as presented (that is, a hyphen after 10 without the % symbol). Do you concur with the logic and the correctness of the punctuation below? Please, no suggestions for a recast.

a 10- to 15%-a-year increase

(Doesn’t it appear as though the 10- means “a 10-a-year to 15%-a-year increase," which obviously doesn’t make sense. Or is the punctuation above spot on with the hyphen doubling in brass and wearing two hats as both the suspending hyphen and the replacement for the % symbol?)

  • You may not find an answer, given how punctuation is mostly a matter of accepted style and preference, not one of "correctness", whatever that means. – tchrist Dec 22 '17 at 7:00
  • Similar, I think: Can I say this in English: “Hard- and Software”? – herisson Dec 22 '17 at 8:26
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    Why do you have the word to at all? “10%–15% increase” is much easier to read and understand. Unpacking that entire unwieldy compound may also be a good idea: “an increase of 10%–15% a year” is so much easier. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 22 '17 at 8:44
  • As the authors say, it's perfect - though I'd think it's rather laughable. The dash (not hyphen) stands to represent just the per cent sign, when one could as well say "a 10% to 15%" in just as many characters. It's a question of following their internal style guide and it is obviously done for purposes of consistency. "-a-year increase" is not part of the issue at hand. – Kris Dec 22 '17 at 8:52
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If you are following Chicago Manual of Style guidelines, you should include the % symbol before the hyphen in a suspended compound. Here is the relevant rule on repeating closed-up symbols in numerical ranges, from the sixteenth edition of Chicago (2010):

9.17 Units for repeated quantities. For expressions including two or more quantities, the abbreviation or symbol is repeated if it is closed up if it is closed up to the number but not if it is separated. ...

[Relevant examples:] 35%–50% [and] 3°C–7°C

I note that the suspended hyphen in your example—

a 10- to 15%-a-year increase

—is not standing in for the % symbol after the number 10 in any case: it is standing in for the hyphen following the percentage 10% and is exactly in parallel with the hyphen after 15% in the longer character string "15%-a-year." In other words, if you were to forgo the short form made possible by using the suspended hyphen, the long form of the expression would look like this:

a 10%-a-year to 15%-a-year increase

The suspended hyphen works forward from "10%-" and justifies dropping "a-year" from the long form of expression:

a 10%- to 15%-a-year increase

But there is no logical theory under which Chicago's guideline would support the claim that the suspended hyphen justifies shortening both forward (removing "a-year" after "10%-") and backward (removing the % symbol from "10%-"). Chicago's rule 9.17 indicates that the closed-up % symbol attaches to the preceding number more powerfully than the hyphen does.

If you were interested in doing so, you might make a fairly strong case for dispensing with the suspended hyphen altogether and running the entire expression of the numerical range as a single unbroken string:

a 10%-to-15%-a-year increase

But you don't evince any interest in achieving that result.


With regard to AP style, The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law (2002) seems to hew closer to Chicago than to the advice given to you by the anonymous AP correspondent who wrote to you.

Here is AP's entry for percentages:

percentages Use figures: 1 percent, 2.5 percent (use decimals, not fractions), 10 percent. ...

Repeat percent with each individual figure: He said 10 percent to 30 percent of the electorate may not vote.

So even though AP advises spelling out percent, it explicitly insists on repeating the unit of measure (percent) after each number being discussed as a percentage. From this it would seem to follow that AP would endorse

a 10-percent- to 15-percent-a-year increase

or, less awkwardly, as the % symbol has become more acceptable in main text use,

a 10%- to 15%-a-year increase

It seems a bit odd to conclude that the AP spokesperson who communicated with you was mistaken about AP style—but that's the conclusion I reach after looking at the relevant coverage in the (admittedly not current) AP Stylebook that I have at hand.

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No. If you are doing that presently, stop. They are suspended, but in this case, not interchangeable. You wouldn't use a percentage sign anywhere in lieu of a hyphen, would you? Question, why would you ever need to use a hyphen instead of the proper percentage sign? Good luck.

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  • Can you give any citation to support this answer, or expand on your argument? Note that it is not unknown for a suspended hyphen to be used even in a position where there would not be a hyphen in the spelling of the complete phrase by itself (e.g. Wikipedia gives the example "pre- and postoperative" standing for "preoperative and postoperative"). – herisson Dec 22 '17 at 8:28
  • My point is in the given examples 10- to 15% either the hyphen or the word "to" should but omitted. As in either 10% to 15% or 10-15%. Otherwise the hyphen and "to" create redundancy. – The Witless Folks Dec 22 '17 at 11:30

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