End-of-line hyphenation is the process of breaking words between lines to create more consistency across a text block. (source) A long word is broken across a line-break by means of a hyphen. It helps justify a text, along letter spacing and kerning. A word processors can do this automatically, if one so desires.

In Russian and French printed literature, hyphenation is very common. In Russian in particular, it is not uncommon to see even a four-letter word broken in twain. In English, I have never seen hyphenation in literary texts at all. I have sometimes seen it in academic articles, breaking uncommonly long words like 'deoxyribonucleic'.

Are there commonly used standards for end-of-line hyphenation in English? Any reasons for me to use or not to use hyphenation in my manuscript? Why is it that hyphenation is very rarely used in English literary texts?

  • 2
    This is really about typesetting, not writing; I've asked the mods about migrating it to Graphic Design, where you may get more salient answers. – Lauren Ipsum Mar 7 at 11:19
  • @LaurenIpsum I've actually raised the whole issue of typography in meta yesterday: writing.meta.stackexchange.com/q/1863/14704 – Galastel Mar 7 at 11:42
  • 1
    Is "Don't." too short to be an answer? – wetcircuit Mar 7 at 12:12

The first step is to figure out if you actually need to use end-of-line hyphenation (EoLH).

Depending on what you're writing, you may not need to use it at all. Internet publications, for example, don't tend to use it, even when the lines are short. Here's part of an online article (which is especially narrow as it is used next to a photo) as it appears on my screen:

Rhett Nicks, director of the
animal shelter, told NBC-
affiliate WCMH-TV that there is
a chance the dogs, named Polar
and Bear, may be put down due
to the severity of the child's

The page is responsive, which means where the line ends changes on screens of different widths. There are several ways you can have EoLH on a webpage, such as shy hyphens, but usually it's not worth it.

In addition, sometimes typesetting is not your job. If you're submitting your writing to someone else (such as a journal) check to see what their policy is. Don't do work that you don't need to do! (Even if someone else does the hyphening, you will likely want to proofread to make sure it looks good.)

Otherwise, most writing software will have an option for EoLH, which can help you get started. You definitely want to proofread automatically generated hyphenation.

Your style guide will tell you how to hyphenate (if you don't have one or it's not specified, you can follow a style guide that does have such instructions).

For example, one style guide, largely (or entirely) based off the Chicago Manual of Style, says the following:

  • In general, follow the intraword dots in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.
  • Don't end more than two lines in a row with EoLHs.
  • The hyphenated word should have two or more letters at the end of the line and three or more at the start of the next one.
  • Some words, like "par·​tic·​i·​pate" have a syllable in the middle that is just a vowel; it should go before the hyphen (e.g. "partici- <newline> ​pate").
  • Divide words at natural breaks, such as between the suffix and the rest of the word or between halves of a compound word
  • Avoid hyphenating proper nouns.
  • Lastly, if following the above results in something ugly or confusing, modify it so that it's not either of those.

I don't know if this is an answer, but answers shouldn't be in comments, so I'll take a gamble.

In college, I took as a humanity "Mideval English Literature." Apparently, mid-  
dle and old English followed this practice to the extreme and with poor judgem-  
ent even in cases when it wasn't used to the extreme. I seem to recall our pro-  
fessor commented that English literature drastically cut back on its use at so-  
me point in reaction to the horrors that had once been committed, back in the  

There are still  quite a few works  that use hyphenation,  but only very  
sparsely.  It seems to mostly be a thing to use to prevent full justifi-  
cation from making a line especially spaced out due to a long word being  
wrapped close to its end.

But when a book of 110,000 words hyphenates three words, you tend to not notice that it did it at all.

  • 4
    @aCVn, I don't think this edit is right, in this case. It was an example of a justified text, and how readability has been sacrificed in favour of justification. Now the text isn't justified, so the visual effect EdGrimm was trying to achieve is lost. – Galastel Mar 7 at 11:52

If you're typing in modern era, most word processors don't require hypentaion at the end of the line as they tend to move a whole word to the new line if it's going to overrun. This was more common in typewriters and newspapers because the former was not dynamic and the latter has space constraints. Even then, in the case with limiting the space smaller than the default, the text will still be refitted to avoid this in word processors. And if you're writing on a typewriter, why do you hate yourself?

English does use hyphenated words and compound words (improving on it's Germanic roots, which has mad love for compund words... the more words compounded the better). In both cases, they are considered a single word. Words such as the spelt version of numbers greater than 20 and less than 100 will be hyphenated words (21 is properly spelt twenty-one) and is considered one word for the purposes of new lines in a word possessor as is Firetruck. If you must hyphenate at the end of the line, you should break hyphenated words on the hyphen point and compund words between the two componant words (Thus "Twenty- /n* one" and "Fire- /n* truck"). But again, computers have rendered this mostly dead.

  • /n is basically a representative of the character for line break in coding (or how a word processor's code handles the event of an Enter Key press).

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