I want to know whether there is a hyphen in the word re-offend, or if it is spelt reoffend. I looked in Oxford English dictionary and the word "reoffend" appears, but then I checked Merriam-Webster and the word is not in there.

So is reoffend a word or is it re-offend?

I'm in Australia where we observe UK English if that matters.

  • One person writes 'I have used different spell checkers and I have received mixed results'. If you want to play the percentages, the majority of authorities seem to opt for the unhyphenated version (eg Collins). However, Purdue OWL has: 3. Use a hyphen to avoid confusion or an awkward combination of letters.>> Possibly some would use a diaeresis. Sep 10, 2014 at 8:36
  • 1
    I agree with what Edwin mentioned: it simply looks more clear with a hyphen. personally I'd always do that.
    – Fattie
    Sep 11, 2014 at 6:44
  • I don't think this question should be closed as opinion-based - the given answers show that you can bring good arguments (like looking what the BBC does or citing the Chicago Manual of Style). I have edited the question accordingly and hope that it will be reopened.
    – halloleo
    Oct 30, 2016 at 7:59

3 Answers 3


Different style guides recommend different approaches to hyphenating prefixes, but most sensible ones start from the proposition that the decision to hyphenate or not to hyphenate should be based on the readability and sense of the resulting word. Unfortunately, attempts to spell out a viable general rule entail spelling out multiple exceptions, as we see in the way Chicago Manual of Style, fifteenth edition (2003) handles the issue:

Words Formed with Prefixes

Compounds formed with prefixes are normally closed [that is, not hyphenated], whether they are nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs.

A hyphen should appear, however, (1) before a capitalized word or a numeral, such as sub-Saharan, pre-1950; (2) before a compound term, such as non-self-sustaining; pre–Vietnam War [clarification about en dash use omitted]; (3) to separate two i's, two a's, and other combintions of letters or syllables that might cause misreading, such as anti-intellectual, extra-alkaline, pro-life; (4) to separate the repeated terms in a double prefix, such as sub-subentry; (5) when a prefix or combining form stands alone, such as over- and underused, macro- and microeconomics.

Even those five exceptions don't cover all of the special cases, though. Another important exception arises when omitting the hyphen yields one sense of a word and including it yields another, such as resign (withdraw from office) and re-sign (sign again).

Anyway, in its list of words formed with various prefixes, Chicago offers this entry for re:

re: reedit, reunify, reproposition, but re-cover, re-creation (as distinct from recover, recreation)

It seems clear (to me) that Chicago would endorse reoffend over re-offend.

That's just one style guide, however. Others might arbitrarily adopt the rule that hyphens should by used whenever a prefix that ends in a vowel attaches to a root word that begins with a vowel (for example, re-enter, re-order, re-acquaint); but in that case, the guide would probably find it necessary to carve out exceptions for very familiar words that almost everyone spells without a hyphen (such as rearrange, reinstall, reopen, and reuse).

Assuming that you aren't required to abide by the dictates of a particular style guide, I think that you can't go far wrong if you simply decide for yourself whether in a particular instance including a hyphen after a prefix improves clarity, makes no difference, or makes matters worse (as in using re-form when you actually mean reform).


This word is used very commonly in news.

So, you may like to look at your favorite news outlets (in whatever region is relevant) and follow their style book.

For example, the BBC I think tends to use "re-offend"


Traditionally the BBC had Actual Standards (they are a presently a cesspool of incoherence, moral filth, and politicized subliteracy, but set that aside) so sometimes with question like this (if it's a word "used in the news a lot"), it's worth asking "what does the BBC do?" or perhaps the NYTimes, say, or something relevant to you.

  • I have looked at some stories from ABC (Australia) and actually found both usages, but the word "reoffend" does seem to be more common in recent times there. I guess if reoffend is a word, then it should be used?
    – jdex
    Sep 10, 2014 at 23:39
  • Re-offend is 100% a word. No question. Hope it helps. please "tick" any answer to close out the question and get yourself some User Points. Regarding the spelling, it literally seems to be a case of "both are equally popular so it is your choice."
    – Fattie
    Sep 11, 2014 at 6:44

(No hyphen) It is a word but it is nonstandard, meaning that the majority of speakers don't really use it.

Source: Wiktionary

  • (Hyphen) Source: Wikipedia (about 40% thru article) 'are more likely to re-offend because employment opportunities are not as available'. Sep 10, 2014 at 8:32
  • 1
    don't really use it ?? what? it's an extremely common word.
    – Fattie
    Sep 10, 2014 at 11:49

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