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I read rules for hyphenating and I think it said an adjective proceeding a verb needs a hyphen. True?

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    as in your title - to withdraw – lbf Feb 3 at 17:34
  • I would say neither. To withdraw volunteering is to withdraw the ability for anybody to volunteer. In other words, the act of volunteering, in general, is no longer possible. It's the same thing as saying eating at meetings is no longer allowed. So, your question is confusing two different things. To withdraw volunteering might be thought of as unvolunteering or un-volunteering but never as unvolunteer or un-volunteer. – Jason Bassford Feb 3 at 18:35
  • The rule you mention in the body doesn’t seem relevant, because “un” is not an adjective. – sumelic Feb 3 at 21:34
  • How do you wish to treat someone who withdraws (the right word here IMO). You could could try guilting them into changing their mind: “Renege – Jim Feb 4 at 2:39
  • to stop volunteering. – Lambie Feb 4 at 15:20
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Is it a word?

The word "unvolunteer" isn't standard: it doesn't appear in any of the main online dictionaries. As there's always a risk that a novel word will be misunderstood, in formal communication it would therefore be best to say "I'd like to withdraw my offer to volunteer", "Please remove me from the volunteer list", or simply "I don't want to volunteer any more." But in an informal situation, provided there's adequate context, unvolunteer will most likely be understood as intended, i.e. withdraw from volunteering.

However, be aware that the adjective "unvolunteered" does not mean "withdrew from volunteering". Instead, it means "not volunteered". For example, a confession obtained under torture could be described as an unvolunteered confession. This word too is non-standard, as there's a perfectly good word that already serves the purpose: involuntary.

Should I hyphenate it?

I read rules for hyphenating and I think it said an adjective proceeding a verb needs a hyphen. True?

The rule for creating a compound adjective using an adjective (or adverb), hyphen and past participle (e.g. hard-earned, short-lived, deep-seated, open-ended, well-argued, etc) doesn't apply to unvolunteer because (a) un- is a prefix, not an adjective, and (b) volunteer is not a participle.

Modern practice is to eschew hyphens and diacritics whenever possible. With a prefix, we generally hyphenate if adding the prefix (a) results in consecutive vowels that are usually pronounced as a monosyllable, and (b) it would therefore be confusing without the hyphen. Thus we would write re-edit rather than reedit and co-opt rather than coopt, but modern practice is not to hyphenate words like reorder or reinvent. [We'll leave aside the debate about cooperation!]

If you do intend to write the word unvolunteer, it's not strictly incorrect to insert a hyphen, but it's unnecessary and would be inconsistent with modern practice.

  • "Modern practice" uses rather a broad brush. – TRomano Feb 4 at 10:38
  • @TRomano Do you disagree with the practice or with the observation? – Chappo Feb 4 at 12:31
  • I take issue with the observation in the sense that 'modern practice' is not monolithic. – TRomano Feb 4 at 12:32
  • @TRomano Can you suggest an amendment that is both accurate and non-monolithic? – Chappo Feb 4 at 12:35
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When a speaker senses that a word doesn't really exist but can be formed by analogy with other words, especially words formed by tacking a prefix onto a verb, the speaker will place extra emphasis on the first syllable:

Now that she is going to be heading the committee, I wish I could un-volunteer.

The syllable receiving heavy emphasis is often separated from the rest of the word with a slightly longer micro-pause than that syllable would have if the word it was used in was "canonical"; if you wish to reflect that pause (or the underlying fact that causes it) on the page, you'd use a hyphen.

  • are you saying that it is OK to use "un-volunteer"? I'm putting as the text of a button on a web page which to me means it's an action. – Peter Kellner Feb 4 at 1:28
  • Your question asks about the "rules for hyphenating". I don't give free advice about website UI design and labels for buttons. :) – TRomano Feb 4 at 10:36
  • I was looking for free advice on how to express it shortly. It's good to have rules for what you give free advice on. – Peter Kellner Feb 4 at 14:10
  • I gave you a rule. You simply did not recognize it as being a rule. – TRomano Feb 4 at 14:23

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