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Hyphens

Author : Dr. Lisa Lines

Submitted : 2011-09-15 17:02:30    Word Count : 551    Popularity:   13

Tags:   academic editing, thesis editing, elit editing

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Understanding its correct usage can greatly increase how polished your essay or thesis appears. Most documents that editors work on require changes associated with incorrect hyphen usage, so understanding this punctuation mark can certainly improve the quality of your writing.

A hyphen is used in the following instances: to avoid ambiguity; for certain suffixes and prefixes; for compound words; and for breaking words over two lines. The first simple rule to remember is that a hyphen is always used for the prefixes ‘co’ and ‘ex’, for example, ‘co-worker’. If a prefix is one syllable and ends with a vowel that is the same letter as the first letter of the word, then a hyphen is used, for example, ‘re-enter’. This is to avoid confusion with pronunciation. Although, as with most rules, there is an exception: if a word is commonly used then the hyphen is omitted, for example, ‘cooperate’. If a prefix ends with a vowel and the word is one syllable and starts with a vowel, then a hyphen is used, for example ‘de-ice’. Again, this is to avoid confusion with pronunciation. The word ‘deice’ could be misunderstood, or at the very least, would interrupt the flow of reading. If a prefix ends with the vowel ‘O’ or any consonant, then no hyphen is used.

A hyphen is always used with a suffix following a numeral, no matter what the suffix is, for example, ‘100-fold’. It is also always used with the suffix ‘odd’, even if the number is spelt-out, for example, ‘forty-odd’. A hyphen must always used when necessary to avoid ambiguity, for example, ‘re-present’ must have a hyphen to avoid confusion with ‘represent’. In addition, a hyphen is used for compound words, but due to the scope of this topic, we cannot cover it in this article. For more information on compound words, please see our article on this topic.

Hyphens are used to break words over two lines; this is especially common in newspaper articles and magazines that use narrow columns. If you are breaking a word over two lines, it is important to remember the following rules. If a word has fewer than six letters, it should never be broken over two lines. The whole word must be taken down to the next line. The same rule applies for words with one syllable: they must not be broken. If a word has two syllables, it is best not to break it unless it is unavoidable. If a word is broken over two lines, at least three letters must be taken down to the next line. The part of the word that is taken down to the next line should begin with a consonant, as long as this does not cause difficult understanding the word.

You should now have a clearer idea of when to use a hyphen. Ensuring you have used hyphens correctly throughout your essay or thesis will demonstrate a sound understanding of the finer points of the English language, and contribute to the overall polished appearance of your writing.

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Dr Lisa Lines is the Director and Head Editor of Elite Editing. She is a qualified academic and writer, and has been an editor for over twelve years. She provide online academic editing and thesis editing for academics, postgraduates and students worldwide.

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