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Hyphenation 101: Hyphenation with Prefixes and Suffixes

Today’s installment of hyphenation in spelling covers hyphenating words that contain a prefix or suffix.

Most of these cases never take a hyphen (unspoken, discernible). Others may take one, some should be hyphenated, and some must be hyphenated. Some… well, you can take your pick, such as anti-hero or antihero, pre-mixed or premixed, ultra-violet or ultraviolet. As always, check your dictionary, use what it says, and don’t worry about it—just be consistent in the same piece of writing. (The trend as language progresses is to drop hyphens and close the words.)

Don’t be peculiar

No one will stumble over worldwide or clockwise. But when combining a root word with a prefix or suffix makes the word look odd (or pronounce strangely), use a hyphen. For example, preceremony looks funny, and I experience some confusion when trying to subvocalize it. Pre-ceremony works better. “Their house could use an update, windowwise.” Try window-wise.

Anne Stilman lists others that might be hard to read if not hyphenated: antiinflammatory/anti-inflammatory, nonnative/non-native, multititled/multi-titled, shelllike/shell-like.

Don’t change the meaning

Stilman provides some great examples of prefixed words that have entirely different meanings when hyphenated:

  • Re-signed/resigned
  • Re-creation/recreation
  • Un-ionized/unionized

When the root word is capitalized or is a number

  • un-American
  • post-Civil War era
  • Germany-wide
  • pre-1700s
  • under-21s

With certain prefixes or suffixes

Prefixes: all, ex, self—all-encompassing, all-embracing; ex-member, ex-wife; self-esteem, self-recrimination.

Suffixes: elect, odd, free—president-elect; thirty-odd students; sodium-free.

Hyphenated numbers

When you spell out a number containing two words (from twenty-one to ninety-nine), hyphenate the words. This also applies to fractions. For example: thirty-three, two hundred ninety-seven, one-quarter. For fractions that include a two-word number, hyphenate only the two-word number and not the fraction: four twenty-sixths, three one-hundredths of a degree.

Next up, we’ll learn the rulse of hyphenating compound adjectives.

Source: Anne Stilman’s Grammatically Correct: The Writer’s Essential Guide to Punctuation, Spelling, and Grammar (Writer’s Digest Books, 1997).

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