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Respect the Hyphen to Ensure Writing Clarity

Hyphens help. They really do.

Mose is not at all fond of the minimalist approach of the AP Stylebook, which would have you eliminate the hyphen from nearly all non- and re- prefixes. And the guidelines on co- are a bit sketchy.

The problem with discouraging the hyphen is that writers and editors carry over that suggestion to all uses of hyphens.

Think that doesn't happen? Just look at how the serial comma has suffered by the AP endorsement of dropping it from a simple series. Too many writers have adopted that narrow principle as a broader rule, and the serial comma – often needed for clarity in complex lists – is an endangered species.

But you've heard Mose preach on that before.

The hyphen, however, is often needed to distinguish between words that – except for the simple punctuation – are spelled the same but have drastically different meanings.

It makes a big difference, for example, whether a professional athlete re-signs or resigns.

The AP Stylebook lists a couple of other examples:

recover vs. re-cover

reform vs. re-form

Omission of the hyphen creates a completely different word.

And there are others the stylebook doesn't list, but which Mose spotted recently in news reporting:

resent vs. re-sent

recreate vs. re-create

Respect the hyphen. It can be your readers' friend.


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