Sign Up For Our Free Grammar E-Newsletter

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


46 Comments on Hyphens with the Prefix re

46 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-“.

    • 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.

    • 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

    • 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.”

  10. James says:

    What about reselect? It means select again so should it be re-select?

    OED seems to suggest reselect

  11. Teeka says:

    I’m a technical writer/editor and often find the first word in a sentence is a hyphenated word. Ex: Re-Enter your password in the….” I was always taught that if the first part is hyphenated, so is the second part, but more and more, I’m seeing it as “Re-enter your password…”
    Which is correct?

    • We assume your question has to do with the capitalization after the hyphen. “Re-enter your password” is correct. Unless it is a hyphenated compound in a title, only proper nouns or proper adjectives are capitalized after the hyphen, as in words such as trans-American or mid-July.

  12. Yomna says:

    I just got introduced to that rule. Does this imply the terms “reuse” “recreate” “repurpose” “recycle” are not correct? Should I be hyphenating them all? What about “replay” and “reward”? I am confused now. Help, please.

    • The rule says to use a hyphen when “omitting the hyphen would cause confusion with another word.” Only one of the words on your list is likely to be confused with other words: “recreate” vs. “re-create.” Therefore, “re-create” requires a hyphen when used to mean create again.

      • Dmitry says:

        It puzzles me a little. What would be the difference between “recreate” and “re-create” after all?
        Cambridge dictionary defines “recreate” as “create again” as well. Do I miss something?
        Thank you!

  13. Rheanna Maxwell says:

    Ok, say a store has been remodeling and never closed. They’re preparing for…
    Grand Re-Opening?
    Re-Grand Opening?
    Grand reopening

  14. Dmitry says:

    I’ve got a question about verb “re-login” meaning “login again” (like to a web-site). Is hyphen necessary here?
    I noticed that they tend to use hyphen over the Internet, but I didn’t find any possible meaning of “relogin” to be confused with. How does the rule apply here?

  15. Elaine says:

    Is the “re” in restaurant considered a prefix?

  16. jackie says:

    What is the correct way to write “re-employment” if you have worked with a company in the past and you are looking to work at that company again? Should it have a hypenated or not?

  17. Emilie says:

    Hi Miss Jane :

    Is this grammatically correct :

    RE meaning AGAIN or not confused with another word.

    Chelsea, your eyeliner is smudged, can you re-apply your eye makeup ?

    • The rule says to use a hyphen when “omitting the hyphen would cause confusion with another word.” There is no confusion, therefore do not use a hyphen. The space before the question mark is also unnecessary. And your example is a run-on sentence. Replace the comma with a period.
      Chelsea, your eyeliner is smudged. Can you reapply your eye makeup?

  18. Susan says:

    Now, 11 months later, it is slowly beginning to re-open/reopen in spite of police officials patrolling the area.
    Is it re-open or reopen?

  19. Jussi says:

    Thanks for the useful site!

    I use terms “gas-fired” and “coal-fired” in my work. What about sentences with multiple words:

    “Gas- coal- and oil-fired power plants”

    Correct?

  20. Dee says:

    Hyphen or no hyphen?

    Readdress or re-address

    Ex: The court should readdress the issue.

  21. Sandy says:

    Hi there, I love your blog, and articles. The subjects have always confused me. A good example of confusion for me was the use of a comma after”and”.
    The above article has still left me confused. I have always wondered about using a hyphen after “re”. I am currently writing a word document and, finally decided to look it up. (So thankful YOU came up in my Google search)
    Questioning myself each time, my conclusion has always been to add the hyphen if “re” preceded a vowel.
    The combination of vowels in this instance still confuses me. I am sure it stems from the phonetic rule of when there is a double vowel, the first becomes silent making the second a long vowel. (a long vowel is the letter sounding like it does when saying the alphabet)
    My understanding of phonics is, admittedly, very limited. In school, to long ago, site reading was taught along with only the absolute basics of phonics (a poor decision in my opinion)
    In most cases, the vowel after the “re” is short, resulting in a change in sound. A good example would be the explanation of “reintegration” above. My understanding would be that the sounds would change to “rintergration”, with the “e” silent, and “i” to become long.
    I have never questioned hyphenating a double “e” though, simply because it always looks just plain wrong.
    Could you please clarify this for me? I may be older, but am still learning.
    Sandy O

    • If the prefix ends in the same vowel that the root word starts with, many, but not all, editors separate them with a hyphen.The best policy is to look up the word in question. If you cannot find it listed anywhere, hyphenate only if you feel the reader would struggle with it otherwise.

  22. John says:

    According to your rules and my personal preference, one would write rereferral rather than re-referral for the act of referring again. However, in an internet search one finds re-referral more often than rereferral. Is it valid to insert a hyphen when the prefix re- is immediately followed by a second occurrence of re (which, etymologically speaking, is itself an instance of the re- prefix)?

    My own hypothesis about why people nowadays tend to insert a hyphen into rereferral and many other words with prefixes is that most spell checkers (such as those in Microsoft Word, internet browsers, etc.) flag the unhyphenated word as a spelling error but accept the hyphenated version.

    • The Chicago Manual of Style‘s hyphenation guide says a hyphen should appear “to separate the repeated terms in a double prefix, such as sub-subentry.” Therefore, it seems that a hyphen could be acceptable in the word re-referral, even though it is technically not a double prefix. We would recommend a hyphen in accordance with our Rule 6 of Hyphens with Prefixes and Suffixes: “Writers often hyphenate prefixes when they feel a word might be distracting or confusing without the hyphen.”

Leave a Reply