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

Posted on Tuesday, March 16, 2010, at 9:09 am

24 Comments on Hyphens with Common Prefixes

24 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?

  4. Philo says:

    Hello, not being a native speaker, 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!


  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.

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