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To hyphenate or not?

Which is the proper one? I mainly use this term in computer terminology, like "grid multicolumn sorting".

  • or MultiColumn :) – mplungjan Feb 4 '13 at 9:33

Surely the more easily readable should be preferred. To me this clearly is the hyphenated version.


There isn't a "proper" one; both are used, both have the same meaning, and both would be understood. The only difference is that one is a hyphenated compound noun from a prefix and a noun, and the other is a closed compound noun from a prefix and a noun.

Style guides may favour one or the other, in different cases; whether always hyphenating unless a given closed form is very common, always closing, or always closing unless it brings two vowels together. (The New Yorker style guide always closes and uses a diaeresis if two vowels are brought together, but it's a very unusual one, not used much anywhere else). Some style guides have rules about particular prefixes, or other specific cases (h/t to tchrist).

People do tend to close more often than hyphenate the more used they are to a given construct, so if you've neither a style guide to follow, or a strong personal preference, you can close if your readers are likely to be used to the term, and hyphenate otherwise.

  • 2
    O’Reilly, the tech publisher, states in their style guide that you should not hyphenate things that start with multi. They say (quoting): Unless part of a proper noun, close up words with the prefixes “multi,” “pseudo,” “non,” and “sub” (e.g., “multiusers,” “pseudoattribute,” “nonprogammer,” and “subprocess”). – tchrist Feb 4 '13 at 11:44
  • @tchrist IMO a very sensible decision when it comes to multi because such words are so often used in that field, that the closed forms would be much more readable to those of us who read a lot in it. That said, non-programmer reads to me as better than nonprogrammer, but then who ever heard of a style guide that satisfied everyone in every regard. I'm sure there's someone out there that would not just disagree with me on one of those, but disagree with me on both. Your point about particular prefixes being mentioned in style guides is good, and I shall add it. – Jon Hanna Feb 4 '13 at 11:49
  • @tchrist you should promote your comment to an answer! – Michele Dorigatti Jul 20 '20 at 15:07