Category Archives: Punctuation

To Hyphenate or Not, That Is the Question

Emily Alfson

Technical editors are often faced with the question of whether or not to hyphenate a word with a prefix.

Sometimes following traditional grammar rules is enough to make the decision, but in the world of technology where new words are formed every day and the audience spans the globe, the answer to the question of whether or not to hyphenate a word with a prefix has become more complex than ever. The contributors to the STC Technical Editing SIG discussion list recently pondered the issue of hyphenating words with prefixes and came up with two ways of approaching the issue.

The Grammarians

The grammarians take the more traditional approach to the issue. If the word in question can be found in a standard reference dictionary, these editors will most likely tell the writer to follow the hyphenation used in the dictionary.

These editors are more likely to place a hyphen between a prefix and a word if the meaning of the word is likely to be confused by the spelling. For example, re-sign and resign have very different meanings, as does coop and co-op.

The Intuitives

The intuitive editors tend to show a little more sensitivity to non-native speakers of English and use hyphens more often than not, even if the meaning of the word may seem clear without the hyphen. These writers and editors are more likely to check a variety of sources to see what the most common spelling of the word. They might also check other documents within their technical writing group and see how the word was used in the past to see if there was a trend towards one spelling or another. Then, these editors can draw a conclusion based on what the writers have used in the past and what is used by popular sources of information.

And in conclusion…

As with many of the decisions an editor must make every day, the decision of whether or not to hyphenate a word with a prefix should be based on grammar, an understanding of the audience, and the common usage of the word. No matter what decision you make, just be consistent with each word and clearly define your guidelines regarding hyphenation.

The Punctuation Revolution: A Review of Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Justin Baker

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air. “Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder. “I’m a panda,” he says, at the door. “Look it up.” The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation. “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

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