Prefixes That Put You in a Fix with Hyphenation

Hyphenation is the bane of many a writer. Wilson Follett, author of Modern American Usage: A Guide, wrote, “Nothing gives away the incompetent amateur more quickly than the typescript that neglects this mark of punctuation or that employs it where it is not wanted.”

For hyphenation rules, the best advice I can give you is to consult the CMOS hyphenation chart (you can Google it and print it out!) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. But I’ll try to cover some basics in these entries to help get you familiar with the most common hyphenation issues.

When considering hyphenation, here are your options:

  • Open (two words, no hyphenation)
  • Closed (one word)
  • Hyphenated (connecting two words with a hyphen)

Let’s take a look at prefixes. British English is more likely to use the hyphen than American English. Most compounds formed with prefixes are closed in AmE, whether they are nouns, verb, adjectives, or adverbs. But here are some exceptions. These constructions require a hyphen following the prefix:

  • Before a capitalized word or a numeral, such as post-Roman or mid-August
  • Before a compound term, such as non-self-disclosure
  • To separate double vowels, such as anti-intellectual or co-organizers (many “co” words are closed up though, so check your dictionary)
  • When a prefix or combining form stands alone, such as over- and underused, macro- and microeconomics

Here are a couple of prefixes that are quite consistent in their open, closed, or hyphenated forms:

  • all– most adjective compounds are hyphenated, while most adverb compounds are not.
    • Adjectives: all-inclusive, all-around, all-powerful
    • Adverbs: all over, all out, all along
  • cross– most compounds formed with cross are hyphenated; a few are closed.
    • cross-country, cross-checking, crossbar, crosspiece, crosswalk

Many of us tend to hyphenate words with prefixes, but much of the time we should close these words up. That includes words that begin with anti, co, counter, extra, hyper, inter, and many more. So best to look them up first in the dictionary, and if you can’t find the word as one combined word, then hyphenate it.

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