My niece and I do the layout and editing for books. Lately, she has started letting her program hyphenate words at the ends of sentences to avoid the rivers of white you see otherwise. This has created lots of problems for hyphenation. Sure, I can look them up in the dictionary, but the dictionary is not always clear about the endings of other forms of the words. For example, is it attend-ed or should it be atten-ded? It just isn't always clear on these other forms of the words. And it doesn't always seem to follow the same rules when you can find examples.

  • Definitely attend-ed and attend-ant. You should hyphenate at morpheme breaks unless there's a good reason not to. Commented Feb 23, 2014 at 17:59
  • @PeterShor I would disagree w/ that: what's wrong with the old-fashioned "break at syllable" rule? atten-ded and atten-dant fits the the way one would speak the words. Further, putting a mere two letters after the break is frowned upon. Commented Feb 23, 2014 at 18:45
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    Mignon Fogarty sounds very authoritative here: '... the rules about hyphens can hardly be called rules; there are so many exceptions it's making me crazy.' Here are some rules to help her on her way. Commented Feb 23, 2014 at 19:34
  • @Carl: The "old-fashioned break-at-syllable rule" has never been standard. Look at Google books. For example, Pride and Prejudice (the 1853 edition) hyphenates understand-ing, teas-ing, feel-ings, and other words at morpheme breaks that don't correspond to syllable breaks. Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 3:19
  • I gave the rules for where to break words at the end of lines in my answer to this question. There are something like six of them, and the real problem is what to do when the rules contradict each other. Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 3:21

2 Answers 2


The comments so far point to the lack of widely accepted rules about hyphenation. If your underlying aim is to avoid rivers of white space, use full justification to yield even margins on both sides. Left justification, also called "ragged right" or "rag right," is widely preferred, but not if you are river-averse. Full justification tends to work poorly for narrow columns, but for most books it's fine.

  • Though, on occasion you'll get a word stretched like t h i s just to make the spacing work. This forces you to add a hard line break. But, if you edit above it, you wind up with goofy results.
    – David M
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 2:11
  • Well-devised software won't do that unless you allow it, especially if the columns of text are fairly wide: hence my distinction between material in narrow columns and most books. Most of the books I read are laid out with one column per page. (The blessings of reaching the post-textbook stage of life!) Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 3:09
  • Also, the blessings of access to well-designed software! Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 3:10

You are running a commercial enterprise, and perhaps don’t have time for rule phylosophistics. What "http://www.thefreedictionary.com/" gives can be taken for granted, for the time being.


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