A Simple Rule for Hyphenating Prefixes


Rules for hyphenating prefixes are all over the map, and they vary for prefix to prefix and from style to style: a pre-2010 preapproval for a coauthor and his co-publisher was nonbinding for non-natives. Those are all right. Unless your document is going to be published in a book, news media, or some outlet that aims to emulate one of those, you don't need to check a style book for every single prefix. Instead, here's a simple guide: If it looks okay without a hyphen, don't hyphenate it. If it looks funny without one, then hyphenate.

Pre1950? Of course not. You'd hyphenate that.

Exboss? Looks weird without a hyphen.

Copublisher? You could do that, I suppose. But it looks so much like the first syllable would be pronounced "cop" that a hyphen is a good call.

Sometimes it's a matter of opinion. I don't like "coworker" without a hyphen, so I hyphenate it. Others disagree, and that's okay, too.

Think of the closed form as your default. Use the hyphen only when that seems too odd. You'll be hyphenating prefixes as well as anyone.

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