penn state mark

University Publications | Editorial Style


Use Webster’s Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary and the Chicago Manual for entries not covered in this list. The easiest way to determine whether to hyphenate or where to break a word is to look it up in the dictionary. Avoid breaking words in a publication—move to the next line whenever possible.

Refer to the Chicago Manual’s Table 7.90, “A Spelling Guide for Compound Words”, for more examples.

Do not hyphenate compounds preceding or following a noun where the hyphen would be placed after a word ending in ly: highly regarded student; ridiculously long take-home exam; beautifully framed painting.

adjectival phrases

Hyphenate phrases used as adjectives before a noun.

The proposal was a last-ditch effort at credibility.

The child produced a mile-long list for Santa.

three-mile limit; 100-yard dash; one-inch margin; full-time student; fifteen-week semester; eight-week session; but a 10 percent increase

When a number and unit of measurement are used adjectivally, they should be hyphenated: 12-inch rule; nineteenth-century painter

all, fold, half, like, self, wide, multi

Hyphenate compounds that use all whether they precede or follow the noun.

I once thought my parents to be all-knowing and all-seeing. Hers is an all-encompassing compassion; she serves without thought of praise or other reward.

Adjectival compounds with fold are spelled solid, unless they are formed with figures.

The professor noticed a threefold increase in class attendance when he started using more videos.

The results indicate an amazing 175-fold decrease in cellular mutation.

Hyphenate half compounds whether they precede or follow the noun.

Dirk was only half-awake during the review session.

Gina refused to consider the half-baked scheme.

However, halfhearted and halfway are spelled solid, according to Webster's Eleventh. If in doubt, check the dictionary.

Any like words can be spelled solid.

He had a childlike sense of wonder and enthusiasm that made class really interesting.

Self words should be hyphenated.

self-employed; self-serving; self-sufficient

Use a hyphen with all proper nouns andwide: University-wide. Do not hyphenate other wide words: statewide, nationwide, countywide.

Multi words are spelled solid unless such a spelling makes for awkward reading.

“co” words

Words formed with the prefix co should be hyphenated. This is University style, not in line with the Chicago Manual or, in some cases, Webster’s Eleventh. Using a hyphen between the co and the root word makes the word more readable and prevents confusion. Exceptions: coed, coeducational, cooperate.

co-author, co-chair, co-owner, co-founder

compounds preceding a noun

Compounds with well-, ill-, better-, best-, high-, little-, lesser-, low-, etc., are hyphenated when they precede the noun unless the expression carries a modifier: well-known man; he is well known; high-quality work; very high quality work.

grade-point average

Hyphenate grade-point. Avoid abbreviating this, but if you must, use GPA—all caps, no periods.

hyphens, dashes

A general rule is that hyphens link items and dashes separate items.

A hyphen joins words to form compound adjectives or is used to attach certain prefixes or suffixes to words.

The dash that is usually typed as two hyphens (--) is typeset as an em dash (—). It indicates a break in thought and can be used within a sentence to insert a parenthetical phrase. Macintosh users can insert their own em dashes by holding down the shift and option keys and typing a hyphen. Neither a double hyphen nor an em dash should have spaces on either side.

The en dash (–) is used between ranges of numbers or dates, or between adjectival phrases containing two-word concepts (1984–87; pp. 123–34; New York–Dallas flight). To typeset an en dash on a Macintosh computer, hold down the option key and type a hyphen. (On a typewriter, use a hyphen.) En dashes do not have spaces on either side. Do not use an en dash to replace a hyphen.

If you need a detailed description, see the Chicago Manual.

“non” prefixes
one word or two? hyphens or not?
off campus, on campus

As adverb, no hyphens; as adjective, hyphens.

The two had rented an apartment off campus for the summer. On-campus housing was impossible to find during fall semester.


No hyphen is used after semi unless it is connected to a word beginning with i.



vice president

No hyphen. This is University style, not Chicago Manual style.

word breaks

Always consult a dictionary (preferably Webster’s Eleventh Collegiate) if you’re not sure about where to break a word.


©2009 The Pennsylvania State University