More Handy Hyphenation Rules

I’ve presented a number of posts on hyphenation, so if this is a subject that you get stuck on, check out previous posts by putting “hyphenation” in the search bar at the top of the page.

It’s good to know that in some cases the meaning of a word changes if you hyphenate it. Take a look at these pairs of words:

  • rebound: to spring back or recover; re-bound: to tie again (retie)
  • recollect: remember; re-collect: collect again (regather)
  • recover: heal, restore; re-cover: to cover something again
  • recreate: to engage in recreation; re-create: to create again

Notice that this is an issue with words that begin with the prefix re.

The prefix self has interesting rules. Most adjectives with this prefix are hyphenated, except when the prefix un is applied or self is followed by a suffix (if you’ve forgotten, a suffix is the opposite of a prefix; it’s an affix at the end of a word).

  • Self-effacing, self-conscious, self-sustaining, unselfconscious, selfless, selfish

Here are some words I often see hyphenated erroneously in manuscripts (note that these are correct):

  • Stepbrother, stepmother (But you would write step-granddaughter)
  • Toothache, stomachache (Ache as a prefix is always a closed word)
  • Halfway, halfhearted, wholehearted (Check your dictionary for words with half)
  • Catlike, Christlike, doglike, horselike (If the word is not in the dictionary, or if like is added on to a proper name, hyphenate it)
  • Ongoing, online (Some on words are often hyphenated)
  • 5 percent, a 10 percent solution (Note that both the noun and adjective forms are open, no hyphen)
  • Words with non: nonnegotiable, nonviolent, nonaddictive
  • Words with co: cofounder, codirector, copublisher, coordinator, codependent

As you can see, there is no easy blanket rule for hyphenation as it pertains to prefixes, so always check your dictionary. (Be sure to use Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate 11th Edition, as that is the accepted authority. Other dictionaries may not follow the same rules.)

4 Responses to “More Handy Hyphenation Rules”

  1. Vanessa Collins April 25, 2014 at 8:26 am #

    Great post! I have several authors that need to read this, including myself. Thanks!

  2. Beth Havey April 25, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    Thanks. I worked as a copywriter for Meredith Books and yes the go-to source was Merriam. Often I would check usage in Chicago Manual of Style, but they use guidelines and cannot offer you
    every word.

  3. Joanna Tucker February 28, 2019 at 1:57 pm #

    Isn’t “Christ” a proper noun so shouldn’t it be “Christ-like?” – Doing research on this word particularly and came across your article.

    Thank you!

    • cslakin March 2, 2019 at 7:16 am #

      It’s Christlike. That’s the acceptable spelling (see Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate).

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