The Prevailing Style for Prefixes: No Hyphens

By Mark Nichol

The hyphen’s role as a connector between prefixes and words has diminished significantly over the last few decades—and would be even more inconsequential if writers paid more careful attention to this long-standing trend. This post demonstrates how words with prefixes should be treated.

You can still visit many houses and churches today that existed in the antebellum South.

New antifraud measures will save the taxpayer millions in lost revenue. (Exceptions include any words in which the root word begins with i, as in anti-immigration, or with a capital letter, as in anti-American.)

The biannual meeting of the planning committee will be held next Thursday.

Smith cofounded the company with two former classmates. (Some writers prefer to hyphenate co to many words, especially coworker and words in which the root word starts with c, such as coconspirator, but when writing for a publication, follow the preference stated in its style guide. Words in which the root word begins with o, such as co-op, are official exceptions.)

These are sophisticated domestic counterterrorism operations.

Cybercrime is perhaps the fastest-growing industry of the new economy. (New terms beginning with are regularly coined, and they may not initially or ever become a single word, but if they do, the intermediate stage of hyphenation generally does not occur.)

Engaging in too many extracurricular activities may cause fatigue and stress.

Hyperactive children find it difficult to concentrate.

War has badly damaged the country’s infrastructure.

This is the most significant interfaith project of the century so far.

The intramural program encourages developing fitness, skills, and sportsmanship and engaging in friendly competition.

What is the relationship between politics and macroeconomics?

Megacorporations are often the antagonists in so-called airport novels.

Metalanguage is any language or vocabulary of specialized terms used to describe or analyze a language or linguistic process. (Meta-analysis is an exception.)

Various microclimates can occur in an area as small as a backyard.

Sales had improved by midyear. (Exceptions are when the prefix is followed by a proper noun, a numeral, or a phrase.)

The minivan’s popularity waned soon after SUVs became trendy.

One cannot address multicultural education without simultaneously addressing issues of discrimination.

Neonatal death is more common in countries that do not have adequate maternity care for pregnant mothers and pediatric care for newborns. (Root words may be capitalized and the term may be hyphenated, or the prefixed word may itself be capitalized; check a dictionary, and lowercase and hyphenate new terms that do not yet or may never have entries.)

The reporter spoke with several elderly homeowners who had approached the nonprofit organization for help with loans. (Non- is one of the most common prefixes and is perhaps the one most likely to be erroneously hyphenated to a root word. Hyphenate when the root word is a proper noun and/or is itself a compound, as in non-English-speaking.)

What should you do when you’re told you’re overqualified for a job?

Postmodern culture is seen as highly diverse and mass produced. (Hyphenate when the prefix precedes a proper name, as in post-Reformation, and use an en dash when the prefix is to be attached to a compound proper name, as in “post–World War II.”)

Name a common characteristic of a preliterate society. (Root words may be capitalized and the term may be hyphenated, or the prefixed word may itself be capitalized; check a dictionary, and lowercase and hyphenate new terms that do not yet or may never have entries. Use an en dash when the prefix is to be attached to a compound proper name, as in “pre–Civil War.”)

Take a good-quality multivitamin tablet daily. (Exceptions include pro-choice and pro-life and words in which the root word is a proper name.)

It is likely that such cells that lack membranes and protoplasm also lack sensitivity.

The book is an aggressive analysis of pseudoscience. (Retain a hyphen and a capital letter when the root word is a proper name.)

Reeducation is a loaded word generally associated with brainwashing and propaganda. (Hyphenate when an older sense of the word already exists, as in the case of recover [“retrieve”] and re-cover [“cover again”].

The archipelago is a semiautonomous part of the country. (Hyphenate when the root word begins with i, as in semi-invalid.)

The battles were fought in subzero temperatures.

His character’s job is to investigate supernatural phenomena.

The supraorbital ridges are well developed.

Transnational crime undermines the foundations of the worldwide democratic order.

Both men identify themselves as ultratraditional Catholics.

Organic food is unadulterated food produced without artificial chemicals or pesticides. (Hyphenate words when the root word begins with u.)

Underemployment occurs when one does not have a job that is full-time or that reflects his or her training and financial needs.

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10 Responses to “The Prevailing Style for Prefixes: No Hyphens”

  • D.A.W.

    There is a word with the prefix “multi” that has an amazingly disparate set of meanings: “multiband”.
    “Professor Sparks has a multiband antenna on his chimney and a couple of multiband receivers in his house. With one of these, he can receive radio broadcasts in the medium-wave, shortwave, and VHF bands, including aeronautical radios. He loves to listen in on the police helicopters.”

    We went to a multiband nightclub in Baltimore, and we had a fabulous time. This night was four stories high, and on each story was at least one different band performing. Go to the right story and you could choose your kind of music.
    Do the British spell this word “storeys” ?

  • D.A.W.

    Most of the words using the prefix “hemi” seem to be scientific words. The obvious one is “hemisphere”. “Hemitropic” is a word from crystallography: the study of the structure of crystals — and there is an amazing variety of different kinds of these.
    “Hemihydrate” is a word from chemistry:
    “a hydrate (such as plaster of Paris) containing one-half mole of water to one mole of the other substance in the hydrate. ”
    Then there is the biological term “hemipenis”. Most male snakes have one hemipenis on the left and one on the right. That way, from either way that he approaches a female, he can mate with her! This helps with the propagation of the species, of course.

  • D.A.W.

    Among “short” words, the ultimate in different prefixes without any hyphens: hemidemisemiquaver.
    When the same prefix is allowed many times, there are “words” like these: countercountercounterrevolutionary,
    antiantiantiantiantifascist, and
    antiantiantimissile missile.
    There is a metabolic disease called pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism. I had never heard of it before today.

  • D.A.W.

    I needed to edit an article in the Wikipedia today about (the ancient city of) Teotihuacan, and I looked at the one about Tenochtitlan, too.
    Those cities were both in the Valley of Mexico, which is now covered by the Federal District of Mexico and the State of Mexico, which wraps 3/4 of the way around the Federal District.

    I needed to put this comment at the end of my editing of “Teotihuacan”:
    Words with the prefix “multi” are not hyphenated, such as {multifamily, multifloor, multiethnic, multiracial, multilateral, multiprocessor, multiman, multistage, multiband, multiday, multiyear} and Multivac (MULTIVAC).

    I changed all of the first four words in several places, removing their unnecessary hyphens.
    It was a conflagration of “multi-“! Yes, a regular firestorm. Else, it was a compilation of hyphens.
    D.A.W.

  • D.A.W.

    Other good words related to ones mentioned in the article:
    antediluvian, infrared, ultraviolet, microeconomics, cyberspace,
    substructure, superstructure, supercomputer, neo-Nazi.
    “Antediluvian” means “before the great flood” of Noah — in other words, long, long ago.
    The prefixes “hydro”, “para”, “peri”, and “super” were not even mentioned. E.g. hydrophobia, paraplegic, perinatal.

  • D.A.W.

    In German, there are some nouns that are often used as leading element of compound words. Some of these nouns have faded in use to the point that they are almost always used a prefixes. One of these is “Ur”, a reference to the ancient city of Ur, said by some to be the world’s oldest city. So “Ur” means “very ancient”, “primeval”, “primitive”.
    The classic example of this is “Urmensch”, which means “primeval man”, “ancient man”, or “cave man”, but there are others.

  • D.A.W.

    According to the official rules of the International System of Units (the “Systeme Interntionale” in French), NONE of its prefixes take any hyphens. Just as a reminder, many of these prefixes are as follows {pico, nano, micro, milli, centi, deci, deka, hecto, kilo, mega, giga, tera}.

    I believe that the same rules should apply to these other quantitative prefixes {mini, medi, midi, maxi, multi, semi, hemi, demi}, as in minibike, minicomputer, minicrisis, microprocessor, miniskirt, mediocre, medium, midiskirt, maxihair, maximum, maxicrisis, megacrisis, multiprocessor, multinational}.

  • D.A.W.

    The British and their compatriots have an immense amount of trouble with such technical words as the following:
    antiaircraft, antiballistic missile, antifascism, antigravity, antimissile, antipersonnel, antiradar, antiradiation, antiroyalism, antisatellite, antiship, antisubmarine, antitank, and counterclockwise.
    Further problems arise with northeast, northwest, southwest, southeast, southcentral, northcentral, transatlantic, transpacific, transarctic, transpolar, transoceanic, and transcontinental.
    I also saw a reference to the Northwest Territory of Australia. Australia does not have a Northwest Territory, but Canada does. Australia has its Northern Territory.

  • D.A.W.

    I saw a machine at the supermarket with the trademark of “Coinstar”. My instant reaction was to pronounce this one co/in/star, just like co/in/vent, co/in-cide, co/in/sure, and co/in/stall.

    In German, there is an interesting “loanword” for doing part-time or temporary work: “jobben”, rather than full-time. There is another one for to put gasoline in your car, truck, or motorcycle: “tanken”. A location for refueling your vehicle is a “Tankestelle”, which combines an English root with a German root.

  • D.A.W.

    Well, well, someone else has spoken out against the silly overuse of hyphens — and also done some proper grating on the nerves of the British, Irish, Continental Europeans, Aussies, South Africans, etc.

    By the way, the spacecraft will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere in a blaze of red-hot glory. Systems for safe reentry are vitally important.
    The word reiterate is somewhat redundant, but it is useful. “To iterate” is to repeat a process over and over again, anyway.

    Two vastly different words are “to resign” and “to re-sign”.
    Besides to reenter and to reeducate, another nice word is to reevaluate. The prefix “re” rarely requires a hyphen under any circumstances, but the British have a fixation on doing it anyway.

    “Hyphenate words when the root word begins with u,” (for the prefix “in”), is quite unusual advice. (The word is not “un-usual”.)
    I have the notion that if you look hard enough, you will find a word that begins with “unuqu”.

    Reasonable words with the prefix “co” (in North American English) include these {coopt, cooperate, coauthor, coefficient, coenzyme, coexist, cofactor, cohere, coincide, coinventor, copilot, cosine, cotangent, coworker}. The British LOVE to hyphenate these.
    Years ago, I even saw the word “cooperate” written with an umlaut over the second “o”. I am happy to see that this seems to have vanished. English does not have any umlauts, or the strange diacritical marks of French, Polish, Spanish, etc.
    When it comes to the simple geographical name of Lodz, I have seen it written with THREE diacritical marks on just four letters!

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