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Hyphens with the Prefix re

Many of us find hyphens confusing. The prefix re can make hyphenating even more of a head-scratching experience. However, there is really only one rule that you need to learn to determine when to hyphenate with re.

Rule: Use the hyphen with the prefix re only when re means again AND omitting the hyphen would cause confusion with another word.

Example: Will she recover from her illness?
Re does not mean again so no hyphen.

Example: I have re-covered the sofa twice.
Re does mean again AND omitting the hyphen would have caused confusion with another word so hyphenate.

Example: The stamps have been reissued.
Re means again but would not cause confusion with another word so no hyphen.

Example: I must re-press the shirt.
Re means again AND omitting the hyphen would cause confusion with another word so hyphenate.

 

Pop Quiz

Select the correct answer:
1A. Please call the restaurant to reserve a table.
1B. Please call the restaurant to re-serve a table.
1C. Please call the restaurant to re serve a table.

2A. I resent the file to you last night.
2B. I re-sent the file to you last night.
2C. I re sent the file to you last night.

3A. I’ll print out the letters again, and you can resign them.
3B. I’ll print out the letters again, and you can re-sign them.
3C. I’ll print out the letters again, and you can re sign them.

Answers:
1A. Please call the restaurant to reserve a table.
2B. I re-sent the file to you last night.
3B. I’ll print out the letters again, and you can re-sign them.

Posted on Tuesday, March 30, 2010, at 9:06 am


18 Comments

18 Responses to “Hyphens with the Prefix re

  1. Jerry Everett says:

    Can anyone help us solve a raging debate at our company relating to hyphens?

    Do we use toll free conference calling OR toll-free conference calling?

    …Jerry

  2. Harriet says:

    So useful, thanks!

  3. Hannah says:

    What about rerule? Is that even a word? or should it be Re-Rule? having a fight in scrabble!

    Thanks

  4. Margaret says:

    I do not agree with the given answer on number 9 in the quiz: reinjured vs. re-injured. Upon initially reading the word “reinjured”, it COULD be misconstrued as “rein”; I think here, it is appropriate to put the hyphen after “re-”.

    • Jane says:

      Even if misconstrued as “rein,” it still would not form another word. Reinjured is a valid word which you can find listed as a “related form” to injure on Dictionary.com as well as in The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary.

  5. michael says:

    Is it reintegration or re-integration? If it’s hyphenated, is the ‘i’ capitalized or not?

  6. Tan Beng Hoon says:

    Dear Ms Jane,
    Would you be able to help clarify the following :
    1.reopen or re-open.
    2.recontract or re-contract.
    3.rehire or re-hire.
    Hope to hear from you soon.
    Thank you.

    • Jane says:

      Use the hyphen with the prefix re only when re means again and omitting the hyphen would cause confusion with another word. Since there is no possible confusion, a hyphen is not necessary in any of your words.

  7. Renee Tollison says:

    re-x-raying or re-xraying or re x-raying?

    I’m a court reporter and we get it all. LOL

    • Jane says:

      We recommend hyphenating prefixes any time they might be distracting or confusing without the hyphen. Some sources prefer a capital X. Therefore, you may write “re-x-raying.” or “re-X-raying.” “X-ray again” might be an even better choice of words if rewriting is an option.

  8. Araz says:

    Dear Jane,

    Could you help me check if my use of ‘re’ is correct in this sentence?

    “The sequential approach to direction setting, re-engineering operations, rewriting job descriptions, competences and roles, training people, and communicating changes internally and externally carries the risk of being slow, sterile and rigid.”

    It is particularly re-engineering and rewriting.

    Thank you,
    Araz

  9. Gary says:

    Hi Jane,
    I came to this page while searching for the correct spelling for redeliver. I thought your rule was excellent, until I read your reply to Araz on November 28, 2013. Why would you use the hyphen in re-engineering? There is no confusion with another word. Is it due to the double “e” introduced with the prefix? Does this also apply to other instances; like re-elect, re-enact, etc.? If so, should your rule have the caveat that prefixing re to words beginning with “e” should be hyphenated?
    Excellent website.
    Regards,
    Gary

    • The eleventh edition of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation (February 2014) recognizes that there is not always agreement among the authoritative references on many of the “rules” of grammar and punctuation. In the eleventh edition, we have included Rule 2 of Hyphens with Prefixes and Suffixes: “For clarity, many writers hyphenate prefixes ending in a vowel when the root word begins with the same letter.” The Associated Press Stylebook demands it: “use a hyphen if the prefix ends in a vowel and the word that follows begins with the same vowel.”

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