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Other Ways of Using Hyphens


A hyphen is a short dash which is used to link words together. Last week, we learned how to use hyphens in compound words. Today, we will look at how to use hyphens when adding a prefix to another word, how to use hyphens to denote word breaks, and how to use hyphens to stand in for repeated parts of words in lists.

Using Hyphens to Join Prefixes to Other Words

What is a prefix?

A prefix is a collection of letters that is added to the beginning of a word in order to modify its meaning. Prefixes are not usually words in their own right.

Here are some examples of prefixes:

  • un-
  • pre-
  • multi-
  • post-
  • super-

Do I need to use a hyphen every time I add a prefix to a word?

As with many of the examples we shared in last week’s article on hyphens and compound words, the most important thing to remember is to focus on clarity. Does the word make sense without a hyphen? Will the addition of a hyphen make your meaning clearer?

Some people prefer to use a hyphen when a prefix ends with a vowel and the other word also begins with one.

For example:

  • pre-eminent
  • co-opt.

It is acceptable to write these words without a hyphen and indeed this particular use of the hyphen has become less popular than it once was. Make sure you pick one style and use it consistently within a piece of writing.

Hyphens are also used between a prefix and a name or a date.

For example:

  • post-1980s technology
  • pre-Shakespearean drama.

Finally, hyphens are used to avoid mixing up similar words.

For example:

  • re-cover (to cover something that has been covered before) vs. recover (to become healthy)
  • co-op (a cooperative group) vs. coop (a pen where chickens are kept).

Using Hyphens to Divide Words

Sometimes you need to split a word that is not usually hyphenated.

If, for example, a word does not fit neatly on a line of writing, you may choose to put part of the word on one line and part of it on the next. In this instance, a hyphen should be used to show where the word is split. When choosing where to split the word, it is important to avoid confusing your reader. Use syllable breaks to guide you.

For example:

  • cup-board is much clearer than cupb-oard
  • bed-room is much clearer than be-droom or bedr-oom

Using Hyphens in Lists

If the second part of all the words in a list is the same, a hyphen can be used to stand in for this part of the word in all the words except the last one.

For example:

  • two-, three-, or fourfold
  • uni-, bi-, and tricycles

If you are interested in learning more about punctuation, you can find some of our other articles here.

Have a good week!


04 Oct 2017
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