Where to break the word "process" at the end of a line in the meaning "a series of actions" in US English? Dictionaries disagree on this (or I am misinterpreting what they say):

I've asked on the sites of the two dictionaries; no answer so far.

Some people told me that printed edition of Merriam-Webster of 1981 also says "pro-cess".

Some people say that they read "proc-" with "k", implying that one should break as "pro-".

Some people say that when they read "pro-", they think of it as a usual prefix, and "cess" is also a legal (though, infrequent) noun.

I really don't know how good these explanations are.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Nov 17, 2016 at 1:12

3 Answers 3


The hyphenation depends on the pronunciation.

/ˈproʊsɛs/: pro-cess.

/ˈprɑsɛs/: proc-ess.

Why? Because you never1 hyphenate after a "short vowel" in an accented syllable, and "o" counts as a "short vowel" when pronounced /ɑ/ (although "a" counts as a "long vowel" when it's pronounced exactly the same way in father).

So which is the preferred American pronunciation? I don't know; I hear it both ways, and the dictionaries say both pronunciations are acceptable. So how should you hyphenate? Clearly, both hyphenations are acceptable.

1 Unless there's no way to avoid it, as in the word ration.

  • I can't find a link to this rule, but if you look up the hyphenations for ravel and navel, and for fever and sever, this might help convince you. And I should have stated the rule as "avoid hyphenating after a short vowel", because sometimes (e.g., with ra-tion) all the other hyphenation possibilities are worse. May 24, 2016 at 20:21
  • Okay ... never hyphenate after a short vowel in an accented syllable unless some other hyphenation rule interferes. (collision, division, ration all are hyphenated before -sion or -tion). May 24, 2016 at 20:47

Well, that is strange. It does seem that the AmE version of the Oxford dictionary has an unusual hyphenation. The BrE entry for process matches the Merriam-Webster version. The introduction to my Concise Oxford Dictionary states "There is a great variety in the use of the hyphen in English, especially between British and American rules...": maybe they are looking for a difference where none exists.

The two possible meanings of process (1- course of action and 2-walk in procession) are pronounced and stressed differently, but the syllables are split in the same way in both forms, and words are normally hyphenated on syllable boundaries.

Here is discussion of hyphenation with a list of unusually hyphenated words: process does appear in the list, indicating that the hyphenation can be unusual, but no correct hyphenation is offered. The adjacent star indicates that it has multiple forms: for these words, only the hyphenation that is common to all forms is shown.

This implies that the hyphenation is different for different forms. The document was compiled from Webster's Third New International Dictionary, unabridged: I believe that this dictionary is available online, but is subscription only.

Maybe the printed edition of Merriam-Webster follows the same principle as this document, and only shows hyphenations that are common to all forms.

  • Well spotted @MarkMcGregor, I have updated my answer.
    – JavaLatte
    May 24, 2016 at 15:45

In many English words, especially those derived from Latin roots, c is "soft" or pronounced like s if followed by e or i. (Celtic is the most notable exception and there are a few others)

I think process is one of these.

So you really need to keep the c and e together. Otherwise there is temptation to internally pronounce it as a "hard" c. Thus, it should be pro-cess.


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