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2.01 Introduction

A compound term is a combination of two or more words that, to varying degrees, have become unified in form and meaning through frequent use together. In many cases only one syllable in the compound is stressed. The trend over the years has been for the English compound to begin as two separate words, then be hyphenated and finally, if there is no structural impediment to union, become a single word written without a space or hyphen. Whatever its form, the compound frequently serves to avoid circumlocution and create a more concise style.

The existence of three different forms for compounds leads to considerable instability and variation in their presentation, and hyphenation has become one of the most controversial points of editorial style. Dictionaries vary widely in the forms they choose for specific compounds: "hot-line" in the Gage Canadian Dictionary, "hot line" in the Canadian Dictionary of the English Language and "hotline" in The Concise Oxford Dictionary, for example.

All authorities agree that the matter of hyphenation is one where the exercise of individual judgment is required, and the rules that follow are not intended to preclude its use. Where various authorities disagree, it has been thought desirable to err on the side of caution and recommend use of the hyphen for the sake of clarity.

Bear in mind the distinction between a compound term used before a noun (attributively) and one in some other position (predicatively). As a general rule, terms that take a hyphen when preceding a noun do not take one in other positions, but there are enough exceptions to warrant their being noted, and this is done below.

Although they do not form true compounds, prefixes and suffixes are treated in this chapter because they pose similar problems with respect to hyphenation.

Consult the Gage Canadian Dictionary for the form of frequently used compounds (including those based on prefixes and suffixes), and then follow the rules below for those not found in Gage.

For information on hyphens with place names in French, see Chapter 15 Geographical Names.