What is the proper way to use the "ex" prefix to more than one word?


  • He is an ex-school bus driver.
  • My ex baseball coach taught me.
  • I am an ex-Fish and Game Warden.
  • "ex-school" seems awkward. It looks as if he is a bus driver for ex-schools.
  • "ex" by itself (no hyphen) doesn't seem right either. Is it?
  • "ex-Fish" just sounds ridiculous.

Is this correct usage? Can each part be hyphenated, or the hyphen dropped altogether?

Is there another way to make this more clear while still keeping the "ex" prefix?


Use an en dash to join terms that have spaces or hyphens. Examples from Wikipedia:

Pre–Civil War era
Pulitzer Prize–winning novel
The ex–prime minister

And yours:

He is an ex–school bus driver.
My ex–baseball coach taught me.

Alternatively, use former.

  • 1
    ...with the following example: when Chattanooga News and Chattanooga Free Press merged, the joint company was inaptly named Chattanooga News-Free Press, which could be interpreted as meaning that their newspapers were news-free Exactly what I meant. I appreciate the info, thanks so much! May 18 '11 at 2:08

According to the Chicago Manual of Style (here's a link to the CMS "crib sheet"), the following prefixes always require a hyphen:

  • all-
  • ever-
  • ex-
  • great-
  • half-
  • much-
  • self-
  • still-

You could rephrase it: "he is a former school bus driver" or "he is a former driver of school buses" or "he used to drive a school bus."

  • The school bus thing was just an example. I'm trying to understand the correct usage of the prefix, not work around it. I would think this question has more general answer. May 18 '11 at 1:19
  • 1
    I understand, but I think in general it's best to work around problems like this. Correctness is good, but correctness with readability is better.
    – MT_Head
    May 18 '11 at 1:23
  • Well, specifically - I'm editing a contacts database with category names like "Ex. Board Members". The client is very picky, so I don't want to reword anything, but I want to still have proper syntax, as "Ex." does not seem right. I would prefer to keep the "ex" in some form as there are codes like "XBM" that use the letter "X" to signify "ex". May 18 '11 at 1:28
  • Proper syntax is "ex-board member." I agree that it looks odd, which is why I suggested working around it; if you can't, at least you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that the Chicago Manual is on your side.
    – MT_Head
    May 18 '11 at 1:35
  • 4
    You might want to double-check that "Ex. Board Members" means what you think it means. My guess would have been "Executive Board Members"! May 18 '11 at 1:52

I believe the prefix "ex" is not created to decorate more than two words.

The correct way is not to use prefix "ex" at all, since it won't provide you any convenience in those cases.

Edit: Unless the next word is not a noun or the following words are well known as a proper noun, see examples in the comment.

  • What about "ex-Vice President" or "ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers stage manager"? Incorrect? May 18 '11 at 4:35
  • You are right, just edited my answer according your tip.
    – Jamie
    May 18 '11 at 5:36

You could do

ex school-bus driver

  • So, then are you saying the hyphen is not mandatory when used with a prefix this way? Ex baseball player would be correct? May 18 '11 at 1:20
  • Well, actualy that was just a choice you could take to make it clear, but it isn't grammatically correct. You could try a different way like used to be a school-bus driver
    – Thursagen
    May 18 '11 at 5:08

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