Don’t Hy-phen-ate Words Automatically

Why do so many writers love to hyphenate words? Most words are not hyphenated, but authors love to hit that hyphen key and randomly chop up words. Even ex-perienced, pro-fessional authors in-correctly hyphen-ate words con-stantly through-out their writ-ing (not this bad, but you get the idea). It’s inexcusable to see that in published books, in authors’ book descriptions, back cover text, on their websites, in their blogs, and in their newsletters (one word, not news-letters). Everything a writer displays to the public shows their professionalism—or lack thereof.

If your finger is itching to punch that hyphen on your keyboard, don’t automatically do it! Take a few seconds to pick up an official writer’s dictionary such as and see if it needs a hyphen. And have a professional proofreader review all of your writing before it goes public. Your reputation depends on it.

I hear writers protesting, “Books are one thing, but I want my blogs and newsletters to be casual.” Casual does not equal bad writing. Keep your content casual and your writing accurate. Avid book readers—who make or break book sales—are quick to notice errors. If your newsletter is badly written, why would a reader buy the books promoted in it? If your blog post is filled with errors, readers will be less likely to repost it or recommend your blog to their friends. If your website (which exists to publicize you as an author and to promote your books) is written with typos, it will make you look amateur. Why not make the effort to be sure your writing is accurate in all public places? It will only help you! 🙂

Examples of words hyphenated in error that I collected from professional writers’ published books, story descriptions, blogs, newsletters, and websites (are any yours?):

nonfiction (not non-fiction): no hyphen per the Chicago Manual of Style and MerriamWebster
rephrase (not re-phrase)
reissue (not re-issue)
halfway (not half-way)
giveaway (not give-away)
resell/resale (not re-sell or re-sale)
coworker = dictionary & legal spelling (not co-worker)
antisocial (not anti-social)
overreaction (not over-reaction)
otherwise (not other-wise)
straightforward (not straight-forward)
tabletop (not table-top)
leftover (not left-over)
chitchat (not chit-chat)
heartbroken (not heart-broken)
overachiever (not over-achiever)
off course (not off-course)
check in (not check-in)
lead time (not lead-time)
lunchtime (not lunch-time)
overanalyzing (not over-analyzing)
counterintuitive (not counter-intuitive)
overreaching (not over-reaching)
reread (not re-read)
telltale (not tell-tale)
bestseller or best seller (but not best-seller)
wrongdoing (not wrong-doing)

Here’s help for writers who have a hyphen fixation. 😉

Take careful note of these common prefixes to words that are almost never hyphenated:

Non: nonfiction, nonstop, nonabrasive, nonadvantageous, nonadjustable, nonaggressive, nonagreement, nonbeliever, nonavailability, noncarbonated, nonfactual, noncritical, noncriminal, nonmetropolitan, nonobservant, nonpayment, nonrational, nonpoisonous, nonsignificant, nonessential

Anti: anticlimactic, antiaircraft, antiseptic, antibody, antibacterial, antihero, antisocial, antiviral

Re: reacquaint, readmission, reaffirm, reapply, reallocate, reattach, recook, redeliver, reelect, reemphasize, reembrace, reequip, reevaluate, refashion, reexplain, reincorporate, reinhabit, reinspire, reinterrogate, reinvite, reinvestigate, reload, relearn, renumber, replan, reread, resurvey, reteach, reuse, reutilize

De: devalue, deactivate, debug, degrade, deduce, debone, debark, debrief, defund, deescalate, defamiliarize, depressurize, derail, desensitize, devitalize

Over: overhear, overboard, overanxious, overattentive, overcook, oversensitive, overambitious, overemotional, overemphasize, overcautious, overeager, overzealous, overutilize, overtire, overstimulate, overindulge, overabundance, overcompensate, overextend, overpower, overrule, overrun

Under: underachieve, underappreciated, underactive, underripe, underemphasize, undermanned, underorganized, undercharge, undergrown, underhand, underperform, underpay, undersell, undersized

Inter: interconnect, intercity, interchange, interception, interact, interagency, intermingle, intergovernmental, interlocking, intertwine, interrelate, interwoven

Auto: autopilot, autofocus, autodial, autofocus, autopilot, autoimmune

Dis: disagreeable, disbar, discoloration, disentangle, disfigure, dishonor, dislodge, disprove, disservice, dissimilar, disunity, disuse

Out: outswim, outclimb, outbluff, outperform, outsmart, outpatient, outbuilding, outbound, outdo, outsell

Un: unarmed, unaware, unbalanced, unacquainted, unbound, unforeseen, unexplainable, unexperienced, undisclosed, undesired, unentangled, unenviable, unequipped, unimaginable, unimpressed, uninvited, unintended, unnatural, unnoticeable, unobservant, unobtrusively, unleash, unmarked, unmanageable, unpredictably, unprepared, unprocessed, unproductive, unofficial, unmotivated, unrepairable, unreliable, unrented, unproven, unselfconscious, unspent, unthinking, unusable, untypical, unwatched, unsubstantiated, unwelcome, unsocial, unquestioned, unicorn (just seeing if you were paying attention!)

Savvy Writer Tip:

Every writer who wants to be taken seriously needs to look up words before hyphenating them. If you’re ready to hit that hyphen key—resist that urge for a few seconds and look the word up in an official writer’s dictionary. Keep a list of words handy that you have a habit of incorrectly hyphenating. Print this blog for reference. Use a professional editor to review your book before publication. Also have an accurate proofreader review whatever you write in every format that you submit to the public. Savvy readers do notice, so watch out for those hyphens! 🙂