Hyphen ... Interrupted


My friend Tracy had a question about hyphens in the following passage:

... patients receiving a lenalidomide (Revlimid) or bortezomib (Velcade) based treatment ...

Where, she wanted to know, do the hyphens go? Under normal circumstances, you'd hyphenate a compound modifier with "based." A carbon-based life form. A faith-based initiative.

In a sentence where two compounds "share" a word, you'd hyphenate like this: a carbon- or silicon-based life form. This is called suspensive hyphenation, where the hyphen attached to "carbon" is just sort of hanging there to clue the reader that it attaches to a word that comes later.

But in these sentence, the parentheticals mess everything up.

lenalidomide- (Revlimid) or bortezomib- (Velcade) based?

lenalidomide (Revlimid)- or bortezomib (Velcade)-based?

If both look awful to you, I agree. The rule books never get this specific. They never say what to do in oddball situations. But they do say that most hyphens are optional, to be used only when they actually help. So, as I told Tracy, I'd leave that passage just as she found it.

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