In German, when enumerating stuff, one could use an "Ergänzungsstrich". This means that parts of compound words in enumerations that are equal can be shortened like this:

Ich mag Eisenbahn-, Straßen-, Luft- und Schiffsverkehr.

Which is short for:

Ich mag Eisenbahnverkehr, Straßenverkehr, Luftverkehr und Schiffsverkehr.

Notice that German mostly uses closed compound words. As English uses open compound words a lot: Does a similar concept exist for open compounds in English?

For example, consider this sentence:

I like rail traffic, road traffic, air traffic and maritime traffic.

Could this be shortened to something like this?

I like rail-, road-, air- and maritime traffic.


I like rail, road, air and maritime traffic.

It seems odd to me. Does omitting the hyphens work? Does this language feature even exist? How is this word-repeating problem solved in the English language?

  • 1
    Does this answer your question? How to use hyphens appropriately when listing multiple hyphenated terms It's called using suspended hyphens, but one needs to realise that say 'rail traffic' is one step down from being a compound noun: a strong collocation. // Even solid compounds may enter into suspended hyphenation: 'She uses both upper- and lowercase in her article'. Apr 21, 2020 at 10:55
  • Thanks for pointing me to this. The question covers only hyphenated words. Does that also apply here (see the examples above)?
    – nikeee
    Apr 21, 2020 at 10:56
  • 1
    The boundary between a strong collocation and an open compound can be difficult to determine. For instance, 'air traffic' and 'rail traffic' are found in dictionaries (eg Collins) whereas 'sea traffic' isn't, though there are hundreds of thousands of Google hits for the string 'sea traffic'. Here, << I monitor rail, road, air and maritime traffic. >> is safest and totally acceptable, and << I monitor rail-, road-, air- and maritime traffic. >> probably acceptable to an expert linguist. But many Anglophones would suspect an error in the second variant. With a mixture of obvious compound ... Apr 21, 2020 at 11:06
  • 1
    nouns and obvious noun phrases (multi-lexeme strings), I'd say you have to go with << A-, B- and C-Ws, Ds and Es >>. English is by no means as agglutinating as German. And, as usual, complicated. eg, is 'rail traffic' a compound?! (I'd said no above, then found Collins disagrees. I bet there's someone writing an article discussing it as we speak. Language evolves.) // I've noticed that you don't seem to acknowledge the tripartite compartmentalisation of compound words in English: open, hyphenated, and closed. All obviouslt differentiable (though some lexemes exist in two or three forms). Apr 21, 2020 at 11:11
  • 1
    ... There is a thread focusing on [noun] + [noun] strings (free combinations, collocations, or compounds ... how to tell?) at compounds and phrases. The bottom line is it's often very open to debate, and dictionaries may differ in their judgements. Apr 21, 2020 at 11:41

1 Answer 1


Yes, you can do this in English. As rail traffic etc. are noun phrases, you can leave out the hyphens. Hyphens are only needed when a word is abbreviated, as in

I can swim both back- and breaststroke.

  • If one could write I like air and road traffic, how can be distinguished between I like air traffic and road traffic and I like air and road traffic (where actually "air" is meant, not "air traffic")? Without a hyphen, it's not that obvious to me.
    – nikeee
    Apr 21, 2020 at 11:01
  • If you aren't talking about both air traffic and road traffic, one solution is to specify what you are talking about. Another is to reverse the order. For example, I like road traffic and fresh air. Or I like air travel and road traffic. Apr 21, 2020 at 11:12
  • No references; I checked, and 'rail traffic' is included as a headword in Collins. Suspended hyphenation where there are obvious compounds has been covered before. Apr 21, 2020 at 11:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

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