In Dutch - a language with many compound words - it is common to leave out the common last part of compound words in an enumeration, and write a hyphen instead. In English it would look like this:

She uses tele- and videoconferencing extensively.

However, I can't recall having ever seen something like this in English, most likely because English doesn't have as many compound words.

Does this practice also exist in English? If yes, is it allowed in formal writing? Or if no, how would you write such a sentence without sounding overly verbose?


This is fairly common in what you might call 'low-formal' registers - the language of techno- and bureaucrats.

I myself find it unexceptionable when the leading elements are normally separated from the trailing element by hyphens; this is really no different from an ordinary conjunct modifier, where the separation is by space rather than hyphen.

pre- and post-Vietnam politics
low- and medium-return investments

I accept it grudgingly when the leading elements are common prefixes which commonly stand in contrast:

fore- and hindsight
bi- and tripolar

But in circumstances such as your example, and my own tongue-in-cheek construction at the top, where the leading elements contrast only in that specific context, I think too much effort is required of the reader; you're sacrificing the flow of your sentence in order to save a dozen keystrokes.

  • Good answer, but the real reason I was motivated to give the +1 was "the language of techno- and bureaucrats"
    – Daniel
    Jun 25 '13 at 14:09

Yes, it's done, but generally only when the compounds are relatively new or rare words. Your example would be valid in English. But an example with more "established" words would not. For example, an English speaker would be very, very unlikely to say, "I bought a new telephone and -vision for my apartment", meaning telephone and television.

I'd avoid it except in special cases, like if you want to emphasize the common part of the compound words, or if you have several of them and it sounds repetitious.

  • 2
    I don't think I've ever seen this sort of thing where it is the leading element which is distributed, only the trailing element. Jun 25 '13 at 13:34
  • 1
    Telephone and television don't fit the pattern the OP is asking about, as they have the same prefix, not the same suffix. Telephone and videophone, as in the question, would be valid.
    – Flimzy
    Jun 26 '13 at 1:26
  • @Flimzy The question says "compound words", not "words that have the same suffix". I took the example where the words had a common suffix as an example, not a narrowing of the question. In any case, do you believe that the practice in English is different when dealing with prefixes than with suffixes?
    – Jay
    Jun 26 '13 at 16:45
  • @Jay: Well, your examples are invalid for compound words or for words with the same suffix (the question specifically talks about omitting the "last part" == suffix). And yes, I believe it is quite different in English when dealing with prefixes versus suffixes. I see things like "Tele- and videophone" all the time. I never see "telephone and -vision".
    – Flimzy
    Jun 26 '13 at 19:30

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