Correct Composition/Chapter 3

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WORDS of variable spelling are rare in ordinary copy, but words that may be compounded are frequent. When to set up two meeting words as two words, when to consolidate them in one word, when to connect them with a hyphen, are problems that the compositor has to decide almost every hour. He finds it very difficult to get authoritative instruction. There are not many authors who compound words uniformly, and the dictionaries differ, and sometimes are not consistent in rendering words or phrases of similar class. Arm chair, arm-chair, armchair, are suitable illustrations. The proof-reader may overrule the teachings of the dictionary provided by the office as an authority, and may correct proof by some system of his own. The author may object to the rulings of dictionary and proof-reader, and may insist on his own methods. It follows that there are often wranglings in every printing-house over the propriety of some compounded words.[1]


The subject cannot be set aside as frivolous. The importance of making instantly perceptible the union or the distinctiveness of meeting words that might otherwise convey unintended meanings is fairly presented by Mr. Teall in the three forms iron fence, iron-saw, and ironwood. An iron fence is a fence of iron, which is clearly understood when set as two distinct words. Iron-saw, a saw made to cut iron, if not connected with a hyphen would convey the wrong notion that it was a saw made of iron. Ironwood, the accepted name of a kind of hard wood, would not so clearly convey the intended meaning if set as two words or if it were connected with a hyphen. Other illustrations could be presented to show that the neglect to compound or to keep separate meeting words may lead to unforeseen misunderstandings.


The theory of compounding is quite intelligibly presented in many English grammars. When two words meet which convey one meaning, with the emphasis of pronunciation upon the first word, the two words should be consolidated or connected with the hyphen, as in laughter-loving. When emphasis is required for the second word, the two words may not be connected with the hyphen.[2]

This is clear and easily remembered, but to this general rule there are some exceptions not to be classified. The compositor must determine whether the first word in a possible compound is an ordinary and removable qualifier which has no need of a hyphen, or whether it is an inseparable adjunct which must have the hyphen or be consolidated with the following word. The consolidation of two words in one, as in ironwood, is still more difficult to define by rule, for consolidation is governed by usage, as in the words railroad and steamboat, once separate, but now consolidated, while house-boat and ferry-boat are sometimes hyphened and some-times set as distinct words.

Many good writers do not favor the increase of compounds: words once hyphened are now separated, as

  • common law
  • grand jury
  • interest tables
  • law merchant
  • master printer
  • minute hand
  • palm leaf
  • peasant woman
  • sister city
  • slave trade
  • Sunday school
  • supper table

The compounding of very long phrases, as never-enough-to-be-remembered, long-looked-for, counsellor-at-law, after the German method of uniting all qualifying words, is not practised by careful writers. Bigelow judiciously says that the hyphening of these words adds nothing toward clearness of expression. Two words should not be connected with the hyphen when separated words will convey the meaning with suficient distinctness.


The dieresis, always on the second vowel, may be required in some words like coöperative and preeminent. When a word carrying this dieresis, like coöperation and preëmption, has to be divided on the first syllable at the end of a line, the dieresis should be suppressed.

He sought the agent at once, and asked his cooperation in securing for his son the preemption of the land.
When the prefix co- is followed by a consonant it does not always take the hyphen. Usage allows contemporary, co-partner, and correspond, as well as co-worker and co-respondent.

The dieresis should be preferred where, in words not compound, the vowel o is doubled, forming a separate syllable, as in epizoötic, laocoön, zoölogy, zoöphyte.


Useless hyphened words are often made in naming some of the points of the compass, as north-east, north-west, south-east, south-west, which are better as consolidated words (northeast, northwest, etc.). A hyphen is needed only when one of the words is repeated, as in north-northeast, south-southwest.


Simple fractions, like one half, two thirds, even sixteenths, ten thousandths, need no connecting hyphen; they are more clearly expressed when numerator and denominator are kept separate and printed as two disunited words. But two numerals may be compounded by the aid of the hyphen when they are needed to qualify a following noun, as in one-half interest, two-third share, seven-sixteenth division.

When the fraction is complex, as in three seventy-ninths or thirty-eight thousandths, the hyphen should be used to connect the numerals more nearly related. For a similar reason the hyphen should be used in the specification of numbered streets, as in Eighty-second Street or One-hundred-and- twenty-first Street. The hyphen makes the phrase awkward in appearance, but it is of real service, for by dictation the words Eighty-second Street might be misunderstood as Eighty (or 80) Second Street. Two numerals so connected as to express an amount that represents unity and not division, as twenty-seven, should always be compounded.

Compounds of half, quarter, eighth, etc., are usually conjoined by the hyphen, as

  • eighth-barrel
  • half-barrel
  • half-crown
  • half-dollar
  • half-dozen
  • half-holiday
  • half-past
  • half-witted
  • half-yearly
  • quarter-barrel
  • quarter-day
  • quarter-section

but quartermaster and headquarters are not.

Numerals of one syllable used before the suffix -fold, or with the words score, penny, and pence, are consolidated, as in

  • fourfold
  • fourpence
  • fourscore
  • halfpence
  • halfpenny
  • sixpence
  • twelvepence
  • twofold
  • twopenny

but numerals of two syllables are made separate words, as in a hundred fold, twenty score, fifteen pence. When used as an adjective qualifier, as in fifteen-penny tax, the hyphen may be used.

First-rate, second-rate, and other terms signi- fying degrees, are compounded. So are the titles of First-lieutenant, Second-lieutenant, First-mate, Second -mate, when used before the name of the person; but when these titles occur without the name of the person they are made separate words.

Numerals combined with adjectives or nouns and used as qualifying adjectives take the hyphen.

  • four-mile run
  • four-story
  • one-sided
  • three-legged stool
  • twenty-acre lot
  • two-faced
  • two-foot rule
  • two-hundred-dollar note


  • foster-brother
  • grand-uncle
  • great-aunt
  • great-grandfather
  • heir-at-law
  • mother-in-law
  • second-cousin
  • son-in-law

Kinship words in frequent use are consolidated

  • godfather
  • godmother
  • godson
  • grandfather
  • grandmother
  • stepdaughter
  • stepfather
  • stepmother
  • stepson


Compound nouns ending with man or woman should be consolidated : as, Englishman, Frenchwoman, oysterman, warehouseman, needlewoman, workingman, marketwoman, etc.

While a noun or an adjective made by adding a suffix to a proper name composed of two words may be compounded (as in East-Indian or New-Yorker), qualifying names without a suffix should not be compounded: the East India Company and a New York man are better renderings.

The hyphen is needed in many words beginning with self. Exceptions are selfhood, selfsame, and selfish with some derivatives. Words ending with self, as myself, itself, himself, are consolidated. The exception is one's self, which should be made two words, marking the first word in the possessive case. There are a few writers, however, who prefer the solid form oneself.

Personal descriptions tersely expressed in two words, as light -haired, long-legged, sharp -nosed, broad-shouldered, blue-eyed, invariably have these words connected with a hyphen.


Accepted compounds are major-general, rear-admiral, captain-general, adjutant-general, attorney-general, lieutenant-colonel, governor-general, vice- president, vice-chancellor, but the words viceroy and viceregent are consolidated. They always take one capital when they precede the name of the person, and sometimes when used as the synonym of that person's name, as in the words Governor-general, the Rear-admiral, the Vice-president, etc.


Compounds ending with -like are usually made one word, unless derived from a proper name, or appearing in unusual and unpleasing combination, as they do when two or more similar consonants meet, in which case the hyphen should be used, as it is in shell-like, bell-like, and miniature-like. Childlike, godlike, lifelike, ladylike, businesslike, etc., are always consolidated.

Compounds in which the prefix mid- begins the word are frequently written with a hyphen, as in mid-ocean; but the words in commoner use have become consolidated, as midday, midnight, midway, midsummer, midships, midland, midrib, midwife.


Expressions like a brownish yellow or a yellowish white, being simple cases of adjective and noun, are not compounded. But where a noun is used with an adjective to specify color the words may take the hyphen: lemon-yellow, silver-gray, olive-green, emerald-green, etc.


Compounds formed of nouns in the possessive case with other nouns are not infrequent, as in bird's-eye, death's-head, kingVevil, crow's-nest, bear's-foot, jew's-harp, etc. The use of a hyphen following the possessive 's has good authority, but it is of doubtful propriety and is much oftener disregarded, as in birdseye, jewsharp, ratsbane, beeswax, and townspeople. When there is reasonable doubt as to their propriety, it will be safer to omit the apostrophe and hyphen and to consolidate.


  • anybody
  • anything
  • anywhere
  • cannot
  • evermore
  • everybody
  • everything
  • everywhere
  • forever
  • forevermore
  • nobody
  • nothing
  • nowhere
  • something
  • somewhere

Any one and every one should be kept separate.

Meantime, meanwhile, maybe, anywise, nowise, anyway, awhile, when used as adverbs should be consolidated, but the phrases, after a while, by and by, it may be, should be made separate words.

  • bystander
  • byways
  • churchwarden
  • courtyard
  • earthenware
  • eyebrow
  • eyelash
  • eyewitness
  • facsimile
  • fireproof
  • freeholder
  • halfway
  • heartache
  • highroad
  • highway
  • knickknack
  • landowner
  • lawgiver
  • lookout
  • newcomer
  • nowadays
  • roughhew
  • smallpox
  • snowdrop
  • stockbroker
  • taxpayer
  • teardrop
  • thoroughgoing
  • trademark
  • Zionward


Where the prefix pre- or re- is joined to a word beginning with e, the hyphen, and not the dieresis, may be needed, as pre-exist, re-enter, re-enlist.

The hyphen should be used when the prefix comes before a consonant and forms a word similar in form to another of different signification, as in re-create or re-creation, but not in rec'reation, nor in rec'ollection. It may be used in re-form or re-formation, but not in reformation, for the word with a hyphen conveys a different meaning. The hyphen is used in pre-historic and pre-raphaelite, but not in predetermine.

The prefixes over, under, after, out, cross, and counter are usually consolidated, as in overdone, overestimate, overboard, underclothes, undertaker, underbrush, undergraduate, afterpiece, aftermath, outlook, outpour, crossexamine, crossquestion, countermarch, countercharm. When, however, these prefixes come before nouns or adjectives of two syllables they may take the hyphen, as in under-current, under-master, counter-current, over-issue, over-jealous. In some dictionaries the hyphen is authorized in under-lip, over-anxious, after-age, after-part, cross-piece, county-town, cross-section, counter-influence, but these words are oftener kept apart. Antislavery and antedate, once joined with a hyphen, are now more common as consolidated words.

Demi and semi, non, sub, and extra are prefixes usually consolidated with the following word, but when the combination is unusual, as in demi-devil, semi-savage, non-essential, sub-iodide, extra-judicial, the hyphen should be used.

The same distinction may be made in scientific prefixes like electro, thermo, pseudo, .sulpho. Electro - gilding, thermo-electric, pseudo -metallic, and sulpho-cyanide are made clearer by the hyphen.

Above, ill, well, so, when they precede a participle and are used as qualifiers, may be connected to that participle by a hyphen, as in above-mentioned, ill-bred, well -formed, so-called. Adverbs ending in -ly are seldom compounded with the participle that may follow.

Nouns or adjectives preceded or followed by a present participle are frequently connected with a hyphen: composing-room, printing-house, diningtable, good-looking, cloud-compelling. In the earlier editions of Shakspere and of other English dramatists hyphened compounds of nouns with participles are noticeably frequent.

School is consolidated in the following words: schoolboy, schoolmate, schoolmaster, schoolmistress; but it is compounded in school-bred and school-teaching when used to qualify a following noun. It is a distinct word in school teacher, school children, school days, school district.

Eye is usually consolidated in most of its compounds, as eyelash, eyebrow, eyeglass, eyewitness.


Compounds that end with boat, house, book, room, side, yard, shop, mill, work, maker, holder, keeper, etc., are frequently printed with a hyphen, but when the words that so end are in common use they should be consolidated, as in

  • anteroom
  • bedroom
  • bedside
  • bookbinder
  • bookseller
  • breastworks
  • commonplace
  • daybreak
  • daylight
  • daytime
  • downstairs
  • drawbridge
  • earthworks
  • fireside
  • firewarden
  • foothills
  • framework
  • gamekeeper
  • groundwork
  • handbill
  • handbook
  • headwaters
  • hillside
  • hilltop
  • hotchpot
  • lawsuit
  • lifetime
  • network
  • outhouse
  • quitclaim
  • rainfall
  • roadside
  • sawmill
  • seaside
  • shoemaker
  • steamboat
  • stockholder
  • storehouse
  • storeroom
  • upstairs
  • warehouse
  • watercourse
  • wayfarer
  • wayside
  • workshop

It should be noted that most of the prefixes in these examples are words of one syllable. When the prefix consists of two syllables, as in canal-boat, ferry-house, dwelling-house, water-drop, etc., the words are more acceptable when connected with the hyphen.


  • after a while
  • attorney at law
  • by and by
  • by the bye
  • ever to be remembered
  • good by
  • good morning
  • in any way
  • in any wise
  • in no wise
  • inside out
  • in the meanwhile
  • in the meantime
  • it may be so
  • long looked for (return)
  • some time ago
  • the carrying out
  • the pulling down
  • uncalled for (remarks)
  • upside down
  • waste ground
  • well laid out (grounds)

Good day and good night should be made separate words, except when used as qualifiers of a following noun, as in good-night kiss, good-day greeting.


  • a-fishing
  • apple-tree
  • arm-chair
  • arm's-length
  • battle-flag
  • bill-holder
  • bird's-eye view
  • book-account
  • bric-a-brac
  • burnt-offering
  • charter-party
  • church-goer
  • counting-house
  • deep-mouthed
  • dining-hall
  • easy-chair
  • evil-doer
  • fancy-free
  • fault-finding
  • fee-simple
  • fellow-student
  • first-born
  • first-fruits
  • fore-leg
  • freight-car
  • glass-house
  • gold-mining
  • good-will
  • ground-floor
  • ground-plan
  • ground-rent
  • harvest-time
  • head-right
  • heaven-high
  • high-priest
  • high-water mark
  • hill-bound
  • hind-leg
  • hind-quarters
  • horse-power
  • house-servant
  • imposing-stone
  • judgment-day
  • knight-errant
  • land-office
  • laughing-stock
  • law-abiding
  • law-writer
  • live-stock
  • livery-stable
  • long-suffering
  • looker-on
  • loop-hole
  • man-of-war
  • many-sided
  • May-pole
  • mill-pond
  • moss-covered
  • night-time
  • old-fashioned
  • out-building
  • party-wall
  • peace-loving
  • pew-owner
  • purchase-money
  • rent-charge
  • rent-service
  • resting-place
  • safe-keeping
  • set-off
  • sewing-machine
  • side-track
  • silver-tongued
  • smart-money
  • snow-bound
  • snow-storm
  • spell-bound
  • star-chamber
  • starting-point
  • steam-engine
  • stock-raising
  • stumbling-block
  • subject-matter
  • table-land
  • terra-cotta
  • text-book
  • text-writer
  • title-page
  • trade-wind
  • water-mark
  • water-proof
  • way-bill
  • way-station
  • well-being
  • wide-spread
  • wrong-doer

Compound words often cause over-wide spacing, but the gaps so made may be modified by putting a thin space on each side of the hyphen.

A compound word within a line of capital letters should have an en dash to mark the compound; but when it has to be divided at the end of a line, the hyphen should be used.

  1. It is not the purpose of the writer to lay down new rules or to take part in the controversies of opposing systems. For this work it is enough to present joinings that have met with general approval. Readers who are interested in greater niceties are referred to two books by Mr. F. Horace Teall: English Compound Words and Phrases (octavo, New York, 1892), and examples of words and word- The Compounding of English Words, etc. (duodecimo, New York, 1891).
  2. ... Is not the pronunciation of the words the best guide?— In the English language, every word of more than one syllable is marked by an accent on some particular syllable. Some very long words indeed admit a secondary accent on another syllable; but still this is much inferior, and leaves one leading accent prominent: as in expos'tulatory. Accordingly, when a compound has but one accented syllable in pronunciation, as night'cap, bed'stead, 'broad'sword, the two words have coalesced completely into one, and no hy phen should be admitted. On the other hand, when each of the radical words has an accent, as Christian-name', broad' -shoul'-dered, I think the hyphen should be used. Goold Brown's Grammar of English Grammars, p. 188.