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What is the correct hyphenation of "kinetic" (if it matters in British English). I found two possibilities:

ki-net-ic (/kə-ˈne-tik/) in the Merriam Webster (which might be US English) and kin-et-ic (/kI'netIk/ or /kaI'netIk/) in the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary 8th edition (British version?).

Is there a difference in hyphenation rules between British and US English?

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I'd say this is a duplicate of Hyphenation of “balaclava”, but the accepted answer to that question is unsatisfying. Also, the wikipedia article on syllabification simply says, "there are differences between British and US syllabification and even between dictionaries of the same English variety." It would be great to get a more thorough answer from the community. –  Cameron Aug 19 '12 at 18:12
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I've been mumbling 'kinetic' to myself for 30 seconds; I'm not sure I see a difference. –  Dave Aug 19 '12 at 18:51
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There is no official hyphenation in English. All punctuation is a matter of individual opinions, occasionally codified, but all contradictory. Phonologically, there is often no letter-perfect ending of on syllable and beginning of the next. In kinetic [kʰɨ'nɛɾɨk]there are two consonants, [n] and [ɾ], that separate syllables; the question is whether the first syllable is [kʰɨn] or [kʰɨ], the second syllable is [nɛ], [nɛɾ], [ɛ], or [ɛɾ], or the third syllable is [ɾɨk] or [ɨk]. The problem is that the [n] nasalizes the first syllable, and the [ɾ] occurs between stressed and unstressed. –  John Lawler Aug 19 '12 at 20:24
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After reading what @JohnLawler said, I wonder if a better question is the more general one: Are there any particular letter formations that make it hard to figure out where syllables should be separated? E.g., would fanatic give us the same problem as kinetic? (And, in the case where it's ambiguous, does that mean one could hyphenate it in either place, if the word needed to be hyphenated in a paragraph of text?) –  J.R. Aug 20 '12 at 3:23
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Hyphenation rule: never hyphenate after a short vowel (unless not doing so breaks another hyphenation rule). If it's pronounced /kɪnɛtɪk/, you hyphenate after the 'n'; if it's pronounced /kənɛtɪk/, you hyphenate after the 'i'. What do the two dictionaries say about the pronunciation? –  Peter Shor Aug 20 '12 at 5:00

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

There are a number of guidelines for hyphenation in English. one of them is:

Don't hyphenate after a short vowel.

Following this guideline you get: If it's pronounced /kɪnɛtɪk/, hyphenate after the 'n'; if it's pronounced /kənɛtɪk/, hyphenate after the 'i'. I suspect this is the reason for the difference between the two dictionaries.

One side comment: the actual hyphenations given by Merriam-Webster don't follow a single set of rules: they involve judgment calls where two of these rules conflict (e.g. rational) and some cases where historical hyphenations no longer make sense (fair-y and prai-rie seem to be hyphenated the way they are because they didn't rhyme 100 years ago).

And as a final side comment: I am sure that both pronunciations are used by Americans.

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So you’re saying that you only can hyphenate after ɔː, ɑː, , , , and then, not the other vowels? –  tchrist Aug 21 '12 at 23:50
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Also after ə. The idea is that you can only hyphenate after vowels which can end words in English. –  Peter Shor Aug 22 '12 at 4:05

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