July 21, 2014

Based on a Writing Tip I wrote for my work colleagues…


Bottom line: Hyphen ‘rules’ are all over the place. So check first!

I use the online (Australian) Macquarie Dictionary all the time to check words while I’m editing. I check hyphenation far more often than spelling.

The ‘rules’ about when to use a hyphen or not are all over the place in the dictionary, the Australian Style Manual, etc. Before applying these ‘rules’, you need to know which words in the phrase are nouns, adjectives, adverbs etc., and who has time to remember all that (assuming you were taught it at school in the first place)?

Now there’s a ‘cheat sheet’ for you (if you can call a 10-page table a ‘cheat sheet’!), put out by the Chicago Manual of Style: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/16/images/ch07_tab01.pdf (if this link doesn’t work for you, go to http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org, search for ‘hyphenation’, then click the link for the PDF of the Hyphenation Table)

While this ‘cheat sheet’ is US-based, most of the ‘rules’ in this table also apply to the Australian situation; the Australian Style Manual and Macquarie Dictionary align with nearly all of them. However, there are some exceptions:

  • The Australian Style Manual says that compass points/directions are hyphenated (e.g. south-east).
  • Macquarie Dictionary and the Australian Style Manual have most ‘non’ words hyphenated.
  • ‘e’ words like ‘email’ are still slipping and sliding between being hyphenated or closed, with the recent trend to closed.

There are a few other minor differences in the examples given, such as ‘percent’ vs ‘per cent’ (Australian Style Manual preference), and ‘p.m.’ vs ‘pm’ (Australian Style Manual preference), and the reference to Webster’s Dictionary, whereas our [project’s] dictionary of choice is Macquarie. But in the main, this ‘cheat sheet’ should cover almost all situations that we come across in our documents.


  •  Snooks & Co. 2002. Style manual for authors, editors and printers. 6th ed. John Wiley and Sons/Commonwealth of Australia. (ISBN 0 7016 3648 3)
  • Macquarie Dictionary: www.macquariedictionary.com.au

[Links last checked July 2014]

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