The Hyphenation Associated with Prefixes & Suffixes in Academic Texts

The Hyphenation Associated with Prefixes & Suffixes in Academic Texts
There are many different uses of hyphens in the English language, and some authors might argue with justice that there is a great deal too much unpredictability in the principles governing hyphen use. This unpredictability is certainly a factor when adding prefixes and suffixes to English words, but there are also some guidelines worth remembering if you wish to make your decisions about the hyphenation associated with prefixes and suffixes a little easier and more effective.

A hyphen can be and often is used when a prefix is added to a word (pre-test), but the compound term can instead be closed (pretest). In some cases using a hyphen or not depends on whether British or American English is used in a document because American English tends to use closed forms without hyphens more often than British English does. Access to a dictionary with information on one or both versions of the language is therefore necessary, with a good dictionary usually providing correct forms for well-established terms with prefixes. If the compound term does not appear in dictionaries of either British or American English, hyphenating the word is the safest approach. If both hyphenated and unhyphenated forms appear in dictionaries without any indication of which is appropriate to each form of the language, either is generally acceptable as long as each term is used consistently throughout a document and no confusion is created by the compound (‘re-create,’ for instance, means something very different than ‘recreate’ does). Problematic collisions of instances of the same vowel without hyphenation should be avoided, so a hyphen should always appear in ‘re-establish’ and ‘anti-intellectual,’ but there are exceptions to this rule: ‘cooperate’ and ‘coordinate,’ for instance, are usually closed.
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When a prefix is repeated, a hyphen should be used after the first instance (sub-subsection) and a hyphen should always be used when adding a prefix before a capitalised word or a date: ‘a non-English speaker’ and ‘post-1970s.’ A hyphen should also appear after a prefix added to a term that is already a hyphenated compound (non-self-indulging), but when the compound is an open one an en rule is used instead of a hyphen in American English (pre–Vietnam War). When a prefix appears alone a hyphen must be used to represent the missing word, as it is in ‘over- and undermagnified,’ and when ‘ex’ is used to indicate a previous state, it is usually followed by a hyphen (ex-wife). ‘Mid’ is a special case because it stands alone as an independent adjective in some contexts (mid thirteenth century), so while it too can form a closed compound, it is often followed by a hyphen even when other prefixes are not, as in ‘a mid-range property.’

Hyphens are not generally used when suffixes are added to words, so the resulting term is almost always closed: examples include ‘ladylike,’ ‘lifeless,’ ‘waterproof’ and ‘landscape.’ However, if the word to which the suffix is added already ends with two ‘l’s, a hyphen is needed before ‘less’ and ‘like,’ a principle applied in ‘a stall-less stable’ and ‘a mall-like shopping centre.’ A hyphen is also needed when a suffix appears after a name or in rare combinations or newly coined terms, so a hyphen is appropriate in ‘Cambridge-like’ and ‘vulture-like.’ Sometimes a term that usually functions as a complete word, such as ‘style’ or ‘ready,’ appears as a suffix to form an adjective, in which case a hyphen is generally used – ‘computer-style graphics’ or ‘a camera-ready copy’ – and do note that ‘user-friendly’ follows this pattern.

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