Grammar Hyphens with Common Prefixes |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Hyphens with Common Prefixes

Should we use a hyphen with a common prefix such as non or un? For example, is it non-alcoholic beverages or nonalcoholic beverages?
Generally, with common prefixes, you do not need to use a hyphen unless it would avoid possible confusion.  Therefore, most writers would write nonalcoholic beverages.

Examples: uninviting
preexisting (some writers would write pre-existing)
posttest (some writers would write post-test)
Exception: As the above examples suggest, when adding a prefix creates a double vowel or double consonant, many writers use a hyphen.
Examples: ultra-ambitious

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52 responses to “Hyphens with Common Prefixes”

  1. English Grammar says:

    Mostly, people face problems in using correct grammar with punctuations and i am also one of them. Your blog content always helps me in clearing my doubts. Like the use of correct preposition is really helpful for me. Thanks for this great information.

  2. Janice says:

    Does the prefix sub have a hyphen (e.g.subcontractor or sub-contractor)?

    Thank you so much in advance.

  3. Marion says:

    What about:

    Do they offer any non golf-related merchandise?

    Do they offer any non-golf related merchandise?

    • Since the phrase “non-golf-related” is a compound adjective describing the merchandise, use two hyphens.
      Do they offer any non-golf-related merchandise?

  4. Philo says:

    I have always wondered about the following. If you want to use two words right after each other that have the same ending but a different prefix, what do you do?

    e.g., can you write “pre- and posttest” (or “pre- and post-test” for those preferring a hyphen)?

    In Dutch this is what you do, but as said, I always wondered how it’s done in English.

    Many thanks!

    • Yes, suspended hyphens can be used with words that contain hyphens.

      • BB says:

        Could you use a hyphen when two different words have the same prefix?

        I would like to know this for the following example that I use often in my thesis:
        ‘Health care employees and health care organizations’
        or ‘Health care employees and -organizations’

        • Your phrases do not contain any prefixes; therefore, do not use hyphens.
          “health care employees and health care organizations” OR
          “health care employees and organizations”

      • Christi says:

        So what is the correct punctuation for pre test and post test? pre-test, post-test. pre- and post-test or pre and post test?

        • As the post states in the example above, pretest is correct; however, when adding a prefix creates a double vowel or double consonant, many writers use a hyphen. Therefore, we prefer post-test.

  5. Brian says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! Very helpful! I have a job editing documents for an engineering firm and I am constantly looking up proper grammar to make sure I am correct. This site is a tremendous help!

  6. Yogesh says:

    will non be hyphenated with an acronym, such as non-GRC or non-SAP?

    Thanks you in advance.

  7. Siva says:

    Thanks for this blog.

    What about nonsense and nonisolate?

  8. Jonathan Cohen says:

    I would appreciate your advice to resolve differences of opinion:
    Sub Epic in a term used in the Agile software development methodology and it is a component of an epic.
    What are the rules we should be using regarding hyphens and capital letters?
    In professional software literature I have seen the term both with and without a hyphen, Is the hyphen a grammatical necessity in this situation?
    In a chapter heading I have it as Sub-Epic, with the hyphen and with a capital E. Is this a problem? Is there a reason for it to be Sub-epic?
    In a paragraph at the beginning of a sentence Sub-Epic or Sub-epic?
    In a paragraph, but not as part of a name, Sub-Epic or sub-epic or Sub-epic?

    Thank you in advance.

    • Regarding the hyphen, obscure words like sub-epic may be hyphenated or not as the writer sees fit. When writing the term with a hyphen in a headline, the Chicago Manual of Style’s rule 8.159 says, “If the first element is merely a prefix or combining form that could not stand by itself as a word (anti, pre, etc.), do not capitalize the second element unless it is a proper noun or proper adjective.”

  9. MCSV says:

    How about this one (a very common one in clinical and preclinical research):
    Is it nonpregnant, nonlactating female
    Is it non-pregnant, non-lactating female?

    I think it is the former but the latter is used much more commonly so people have come to think of it as correct. I had always thought that a prefix shouldn’t be separated from its root word with a hyphen unless the root was a proper name, acronym, or created a situation where there were two identical letters (anti-inflammatory, non-native).
    Thanks for your input.

    • The Chicago Manual of Style says: “Compounds formed with prefixes are normally closed, whether they are nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs. A hyphen should appear, however … to separate two i’s, two a’s, and other combinations of letters or symbols that might cause misreading, such as anti-intellectual, extra-alkaline, pro-life.”

      Therefore, your words don’t seem to require hyphens.

  10. Fred Breunig says:

    Here’s one I just came across in editing a document. Should we say “non renewable”,
    “non-renewable” or “nonrenewable”? A quick search of the internet shows all three in use. It is in the same sentence as “one-time”, but I would leave the hyphen there:
    These grants represent non-renewable, one-time funding.

    Just found another … nonfederal or non-federal? Here I would keep the hyphen, but is that correct?
    “The portion of the rate that exceeds 10% can be used as a non-federal match.”

    • Both Merriam-Webster and American Heritage dictionaries list nonrenewable as being correct, and both Merriam-Webster and AP Stylebook list nonfederal as being correct. The Chicago Manual of Style conforms largely to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. These recommendations are also consistent with the guidance found in our Hyphens with Prefixes and Suffixes section.

  11. Marsha Shelton says:

    What is the correct usage of hyphens when describing a job description as “non incumbent specific”? Thank you!

    • We do not see a reason to use a hyphen in nonincumbent. To us, this term suggests a specific person as being a nonincumbent. In accordance with the meaning you wish to convey, and in accordance with our rules for compound adjectives (see our post Hyphenating Between Words) you could write:

      This is a nonincumbent-specific job description or
      This is not an incumbent-specific job description.

  12. Diane says:

    Does pre-approval need a hyphen? or is it preapproval? If it needs a hyphen and is in a title, would it be Pre-Approval or Pre-approval. I have gotten several different answers from different sources.

    • We see no reason to hyphenate.

    • Anita Pirkle says:

      In this particular instance, I would consider using the hyphen to “avoid confusion,” as was indicated in the original response.

      Most of us learn to absorb words in chunks. With “preapproval” an unprepared eye could see “preap” or “preapp” as the first chunk of the word, leading to a short-lived confusion. I commonly use the hyphen just to ensure clarity if the prefix ends with a vowel and the base word does, too. Also depends on the audience you’re writing for — their education level and familiarity with the word in question.

      Even my boyfriend and I, who tend to be spelling/grammar perfectionists, are okay with seeing pre-approved or pre-approval.

      I know this is very late as a reply, but I tend to read all the replies when I get here, so I thought I’d leave it ICIH (in case it helps — is that a brand new acronym?).

  13. Sam says:

    I want to write about a survey that will be released before a project launch. Would I refer to the survey as a pre-project launch survey or a pre-project-launch survey? I wasn’t sure if there should be a hyphen between project and launch as “pre”, “project”, and “launch” all describe the survey. Thanks in advance for your help.

    • Since the words form a compound adjective to describe the noun “survey,” we recommend either preproject-launch survey or pre-project-launch survey. We see that hyphenating “pre-project” is popular on the Internet, but we see little need for it.

  14. Nicole says:

    Do I need a hyphen for prehire? Do I need a hyphen for preemployment?

    • There are no absolute answers to either of your questions. We are not familiar with the word prehire. If it is commonly used and understood in your profession, then you may use your judgment regarding a hyphen. Many writers would place a hyphen in preemployment due to the prefix and the root word both ending in the letter e. But it is not required.

  15. Kim says:

    My boss hyphenated “thank you” like this “thank-you”? I don’t agree. What is correct?

  16. Greg says:

    If ‘pre’ is not a word and can’t stand on its own (or can it?) how do you use it with dates?
    For example: Is it pre March 12, 2017 or pre-March 12, 2017? What about pre 1900 vs pre-1900?

    • “Pre” is a prefix; therefore, it does not stand on its own. A hyphen is used with dates. It would be awkward to use it in a phrase such as “pre-March 12, 2017.” We recommend alternatives such as before or prior to March 12, 2017.

  17. joy says:

    Which is correct: non-compliance or noncompliance?

  18. Amy Nijjar says:

    Please can you confirm which is correct: pre-wedding or pre wedding or prewedding?
    Thanks in advance

  19. Mar winters says:

    Is it pro-criminal justice reform or pro-criminal-justice reform?

    Thank you for your help.

  20. Joe Blewitt says:

    Which is correct: pre- and post-appointment or pre and post-appointment?
    Thank you.

  21. Lisa says:

    Would you write reinspection or re-inspection?

    • says:

      Either treatment would be acceptable based on writer style and preference. Including the hyphen helps emphasize the “again” aspect of the prefix re- and may also assist with proper pronunciation if someone is reading the word aloud. Excluding the hyphen would not compromise meaning or clarity for most readers of American English; both Merriam-Webster online and list reinspection without a hyphen.

  22. Carrie says:

    Would you hypen sub-paragraph/sub-paragraphs? Or would you just write it as subparagraph/subparagraphs?

  23. zneiley says:

    How should the phrase “pre check in” be hyphenated?

    Should it be:
    a) pre-check-in
    b) pre check-in
    c) pre-check in
    d) pre check in

    It is being used in the sentence, “If the guest stops at the conference booth pre check in, then the guest must go to Counter A.”

    • says:

      Our recommendation would be would to separate the two-word compound with an en dash: pre[en dash]check in. This signals to the reader that what follows the en dash is a two-word unit. If that is not an option, we would probably go with option c), which is the closest to that guideline.

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