Which is correct: "six or ten-day trip" or "six- or ten-day trip"?
Published: September 29, 2011
Q: Which is correct: “six or ten-day trip” or “six- or ten-day trip”?
A: The fact that you have at least one hyphen in the phrase means you’re already on the right track. First, let’s back up and look at why you need hyphens in a phrase like this.
The phrase “ten-day trip” includes a compound modifier, a group of words (ten-day) that modify a noun (trip). The individual words in compound modifiers rely on one another. If one stood alone with the noun, the sentence probably wouldn’t make sense or would change in meaning. That certainly applies here:
I’m going on a ten trip.
I’m going on a day trip.
Using a hyphen with compound modifiers that come before a noun clarifies meaning and makes the sentence easier to read.
You’re asking about a phrase that’s more complicated. It’s essentially saying this:
I’m going on either a six-day trip or a ten-day trip.
But that’s wordy. So, the choice to pare down is a good one. In cases like this, use a suspended hyphen to indicate each modifier’s connection to the noun:
I’m going on a six- or ten-day trip.
Make sure you include a space after the hyphen for the first modifier so it’s clearly suspended and not meant to connect two adjacent words.
Brandi Reissenweber teaches fiction writing and reading fiction at Gotham Writers' Workshop and authored the chapter on characterization in Gotham's Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide. Her work has been published in numerous journals, including Phoebe, North Dakota Quarterly and Rattapallax. She
was a James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for
Creative Writing and has taught fiction at New York University,
University of Wisconsin and University of Chicago. Currently, she is a
visiting professor at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Send your questions on the craft of creative writing to firstname.lastname@example.org. All of Brandi's other Ask The Writer columns are available to registered users.