Should a hyphen be used when constructing words using suffixes such as -ly and -wise when the resulting word isn't in the dictionary? For example:


Which one is better?

  • Which dictionary? ;) moneywise, money wise, moneywise, moneywise – Em1 Dec 14 '12 at 17:06
  • @Em1 My example may not be good. But you get the idea. The question is on the general issue not one the specific instances given above. – qazwsx Dec 14 '12 at 17:50
  • 1
    Okay, well I only thought it was Not Constructive - I didn't actually closevote. I think the question should make clear that it's asking about the general principle, rather than one specific word-pair (?!), and it's quite possibly a duplicate anyway, but I've posted my position as an answer. – FumbleFingers Dec 14 '12 at 17:56
  • I really can’t see why a productive affix would need a hyphen. You are not making a compound word — and even those don’t last very long. You are deriving a new word using an affix. It doesn’t matter whether you’re unselfconsciously repapering your superannuated farmhouse in some neogothic theme. Those don’t deserve hyphens. – tchrist Dec 15 '12 at 14:53

Neither is inherently "better". Take, for example, crab-wise, which appears thus in A thesaurus of traditional English metaphors (published only 20 years ago), despite the fact that most dictionaries discarded the hyphen long ago.

As a general principle I think it's better to avoid unnecessary hyphens, so I'd say if you see the unhyphenated version of anything in any credible dictionaries, just copy them.

I shan't feel hard done by if this question is closed as a duplicate of When is it necessary to use a hyphen in writing a compound word?, but I do think the specific issue of "What if it's not in the dictionary?" isn't really covered there.

Even more specifically, "What if the dictionaries disagree?" isn't covered. For example, most dictionaries hyphenate hard done-by, but I'm not going to take issue with Collins in my first link (who didn't). In that particular case one would avoid collapsing it into hard doneby because it would be tricky for the average reader to recognise the component words.

EDIT: I can't believe nobody has yet voted to close this as a dup. But here's another candidate - my own Can word-hyphenation ever be semantically significant?.

What I find fascinating about that one is most votes support answers saying the hyphen can be significant. After thinking about it, I've decided it probably can't, really. If context doesn't already imply the relevant word associations, it's some kind of orthographic game, not real language.


I concur with @Fumblefingers, but I wanted to add the point of view that hyphenation of two words in a wordsmithing way always draws attention to the writer. Removing the hyphenation may leave you prone to grammar hawks and quizzical second glances, but it keeps the focus on the words.

  • That's a very good point (again, not addressed in the "possible dup" question). I don't recall ever seeing screenwise for example (my browser spellchecker doesn't like that either! :), but I can easily imagine plausible meanings and contexts. Including the hyphen in a "nonce word pairing" is only really worth doing if it's somehow necessary for legibility. If it isn't, I guess you might include it to call attention to what you're doing, but arguably that puts the focus on the writer, not what he's writing about. – FumbleFingers Dec 15 '12 at 1:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.