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I've noticed that how the word "evolution" is hyphenated according to Wolfram|Alpha doesn't match the ones I find on other sites: The Free Dictionary, and Dictionary.com.

As I understand, the latter is the correct one (ev·o·lu·tion). I think that the "wrong" versions (e·vo·lu·tion) better match the pronunciation. I want to think it's a matter of evolution of the language.

Why is there a difference in how the word can be hyphenated? Which one is correct, and why?

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4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I poked around looking for Wolfram's sources and found their WordData Source Information page which includes a link to:

Ward, G. "Moby Hyphenator." 2000.

The hyphenator is available online and, after downloading it, I found this:

e•vo•lu•tion

This is likely the the source of the hyphenation used in the Wolfram search. The Moby Hyphenator page didn't have anything noting sources but I was able to find a Wikipedia article on the Moby Project:

The Moby Project is a collection of public-domain lexical resources. It was created by Grady Ward. The resources were dedicated to the public domain, and are now mirrored at Project Gutenberg. As of 2007, it contains the largest free phonetic database, with 177,267 words and corresponding pronunciation.

Which is certainly awesome. The article specifically notes the Moby Hyphenator II as a feature. They also included a link to the Moby Project homepage but it, again, includes no references or sources.

Therefore, I was unable to track this particular hyphenation further. Wolfram got it from the Moby Project; the Moby Project didn't say where the hyphenation came from.


As for the hyphenation itself, the word evolve is typically hyphenated as such:

e•volve — |iˈvälv|

My dictionary lists evolution as such:

ev•o•lu•tion — |ˌevəˈloō sh ən|

If, however, you were to pronounce evolution akin to evolve it would make sense to hyphenate it the same way:

e•vo•lu•tion — |iˈvə loō sh ən|

I checked to see if the Moby Project also has a pronunciation list thinking that, perhaps, it was doing this. It lists these pronunciations:

evolve — /I/'v/A/lv

evolution — ,/E/v/@/'l/u//S//@/n

Transcribing the notation, we find that evolve is entered as ih-valv and evolution is ehvə-looshən. So that doesn't help explain the hyphenation either.

Therefore, I highly recommend using what current dictionaries have entered (ev·o·lu·tion) and disregarding Wolfram's output.

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Ev-o-lu-tion (according to the NOED). I believe that the difference is caused by two possible ways of pronunciation, which is either |ˌiːvəˈluːʃ(ə)n| or |ˈɛvəˈluːʃ(ə)n| (both should be correct in British English). Definite hyphenation rules do not exist in English, so it is dependent on which manual of style you decide to follow (e.g. the Oxford Guide to Style).

As to derivatives, the NOED suggests these:

  • ev-o-lu-tion-al adjective
  • ev-o-lu-tion-ally adverb
  • ev-o-lu-tion-arily adverb
  • ev-o-lu-tion-ary adjective
  • ev-o-lu-tive adjective
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While there are no definite hyphenation rules in English, there are rules that let you hyphenate most words (it's only when two rules come into conflict that you have to appeal to the authorities). VCV is hyphenated after the first vowel if it is long, and after the consonant if the first vowel is short, unless there is a morpheme boundary that conflicts (as in ra-tion-al). –  Peter Shor Dec 3 '11 at 22:32
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Syllable is defined as "a unit of pronunciation having one vowel sound, with or without surrounding consonants, forming the whole or a part of a word." Basing on this definition, both the ways to divide evolution in syllables would be correct.

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One cardinal rule of English hyphenation is: never divide a word after a short vowel in an accented syllable. If you pronounce evolution /ˌɛvəˈluːʃən/, you can't hyphenate it e•vo•lu•tion. This difference in pronunciation appears to be the cause of the two different hyphenation schemes here.

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Although note ra•tion•al. This word gets its hyphenation because there's another cardinal rule that says you must always hyphenate at morpheme boundaries, and when two cardinal rules come into conflict, they have a battle, and you have to use the Hyphenation Cardinal Rule Handicap Chart to decide who wins. –  Peter Shor Jul 18 '11 at 22:05
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