Hyphens with prefixes

Posted on 27 June 2014 by Lucy Gregory

If you didn’t catch last week’s post, you can read it here: Hyphens to create new words and phrases.

Now you’re up to speed, we can continue. And today, I’m going to run through hyphens with prefixes. You might be surprised that they’re a whole blog in themselves, but I did warn you last time there were lots of hyphen rules.

What are prefixes?

Important question first: what are prefixes? Prefixes are half words that join the beginning of full words to create a new meaning. And in English we use them all the time.

Here are a few examples:
 
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So, should you hyphenate?

As a general principle, avoid hyphens if you can. They’re unpopular and distracting, so try to do without. Here are some prefixed words that read perfectly well without hyphens.
 
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But there are some occasions when you do need to use them:
 

1. Add a prefix to a proper name

Proper names are words that start with a capital letter because they represent people, places or organisations. If you put a prefix before one of these, hyphenate.
 
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2. Use the prefixes ‘ex’ and ‘self’

For some reason these two prefixes are always hyphenated. Just the way it is.
 
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3. Use hyphens to separate double vowels when the vowel is the same

The exception is double ‘o’, which is usually fine without a hyphen. Different vowels are quite happy sitting next to each other too.
 
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There’s no hard and fast rule here, though. Some people prefer to hyphenate all double vowels, and we won’t get in your way.
 

4. Use a hyphen to change the meaning

Generally, your meaning will be clear from the context. But sometimes a hyphen makes all the difference.

One newspaper learnt that the hard way. They reported that a notorious gang had reformed after a stint in jail. Local residents breathed a sigh of relief – until it came to light the gang had, in fact, re-formed. After few years inside and they were back with a vengeance.
 
Here are a few more examples where hyphens change the meaning of a word:
 
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OK, I think that’s enough of hyphenated prefixes for now.

In part 3, I finish the series by looking at numbers, confusing phrases and other random bits and bobs about hyphens. Read it here: Hyphens bits and bobs