Why are headwords in some dictionaries, such as Oxford's, hyphenated? It doesn't seem to break words down into morphemes (hyp-no-tize only has two morphemes) or into syllables (eas-ily has three syllables).

  • 1
    Which dictionary of Oxford's are you talking about? I believe they have more than one. Anyway, I would guess the dictionary shows recommended hyphenation breaks precisely because their location is not obvious. There are a lot of considerations, like "don't hyphenate so that a single letter falls on the next line" (presumably that is the reason why they don't recommend hyphenating easily as "easil-y").
    – herisson
    Mar 31 '16 at 1:52
  • Here are some related questions about this topic that might be useful, as the answers discuss some of the principles: How to “hyphenate” the word “standardize”?, Different syllabic boundaries in various dictionaries?
    – herisson
    Mar 31 '16 at 1:57
  • Those are hyphenated headwords from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Mar 31 '16 at 2:08
  • So if I understand it correctly from those threads you referred me to, hyphenation is essentially to break words down to syllables, but not always thoroughly, as in cases such as eas-ily, since such a hyphenated form as eas-i-ly would look "odd"? Sorry but I don't really understand this after all. Mar 31 '16 at 2:13
  • I don't know the criteria used by Oxford, so I can't say why they made particular decisions. Hyphenation points are based on syllabification, and morpheme division, and desire to avoid confusing divisions or ones that orphan single letters (people sometimes even avoid isolating two letters). Some of these criteria can conflict, so there are no universal rules. It depends on the particular style guide.
    – herisson
    Mar 31 '16 at 2:19

In the context of the online Oxford Dictionaries, the following is provided as part of the Guide to Dictionary Entries:


The usual spelling of a word is given as the headword at the top of its entry. If there are also common variant spellings of a word, these are given underneath. Where a plural form is irregular (i.e. it does not end with -s), this is also given underneath.

Line breaks/syllabification

In the British & World English dictionary most words have line break information included, showing editors where best to break these words at the end of lines. In the US English dictionary syllabification information is given.

Often, in the case of physical dictionaries, a guide to the structure of entries will be found towards the beginning of the dictionary.

  • Oh, so it's for line breaks. Totally makes sense now! Mar 31 '16 at 6:22

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