LawProse Lesson #150: When should you hyphenate prefixes?

LawProse Lesson #150: When should you hyphenate prefixes?

When should you hyphenate prefixes? If you want your writing to have professional polish, resist the urge to hyphenate prefixes. In American English, words with prefixes are generally made solid {codefendant, nonstatutory, pretrial}. Modern usage omits most hyphens after prefixes even when it results in a doubled letter {misspell, posttrial, preemption, reelection}. But there are several exceptions. Use a hyphen in the following circumstances: (1) When there may be an ambiguity in meaning or a miscue that could cause confusion {re-lease when you mean “leasing again,” not “letting go”; or re-sign when you mean “to sign again,” not “to quit”}. Consider also pre-judicial {pre-judicial career} versus prejudicial {prejudicial testimony}; (2) When the main word is a proper noun {non-Darwinian, un-American, pre-Christmas} or a numeral {pre-1960}; (3) When the prefix is part of a noun phrase {non-air-conditioned tent, pre-third-quarter earnings, pro-free-trade}; (4) When the solid form might lead the reader to mistake the syllables {anti-inflammatory, co-obligor, non-insider, post-sentencing, pro-life}; and (5) With the prefixes self– {self-serving}, all– {all-consuming}, ex– {ex-president}, and quasi– {quasi-contract}. Again, the general rule is make prefixed terms solid. If you’re unsure, consult a good dictionary such as the current edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Look under the prefix alone (co-, non-, post-, etc.), not the full word: you’ll find a very long list of words with that prefix and how they’re written in well-edited English. In American English, hyphens appear primarily in one context: the phrasal adjective. That’s the topic for next week. For further reading, see: The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style §§ 1.59-1.65, at 44-50, § 7.6, at 130 (3d ed. 2013). The Winning Brief 284-85 (2d ed. 2004) (3d ed. forthcoming). Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 733 (3d ed. 2011). Garner’s Modern American Usage 679 (3d ed. 2009). The Chicago Manual of Style §§ 7.77-7.85, at 372-84 (16th ed. 2010). The Associated Press Stylebook 219, 308-09 (2013) (note that AP style uses a hyphen to avoid duplicated vowels and tripled consonants). Thanks to Cassandra A. Snapp for suggesting this topic.

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