2.17 Word division

In order to ensure clear, unambiguous presentation, avoid dividing words at the end of a line as much as possible. If word division is necessary, text comprehension and readability should be your guides. The accepted practice is summarized below:1

(a) Usually, words may be divided between syllables (the Gage Canadian Dictionary shows syllabication clearly for all its entries), but not all syllable breaks are acceptable as end-of-line breaks, as rules (b) to (m) explain.

(b) Two-letter syllables should not be carried over to the next line (fully, not ful-ly; stricken, not strick-en). Similarly, final syllables in which a liquid l is the only pronounced vowel sound should not be carried over (pos-sible, not possi-ble; prin-ciples, not princi-ples).

(c) Do not divide words of one syllable or words in which the second "syllable" contains only a silent e (aimed, helped, vexed, etc.).

(d) One-letter word divisions are not permissible. Do not divide words such as again, item, enough and even.

(e) Avoid awkward divisions that would result from attempting to divide words such as every, only, eighteen and people.

(f) Divide between a prefix and a following letter (pre-fix, re-location).

(g) Divide a word between the root and the suffix (care-less, convert-ible, world-wide).

(h) When a consonant is doubled, divide it for purposes of word division (equip-ping, rub-ber).

(i) Avoid misleading breaks that might cause the reader to confuse one word with another, as in read-just and reap-pear. Similarly, such words as women and often should be left unbroken.

(j) Divide compounds only at the hyphen, if possible (court-martial, not court-mar-tial). A compound written as one word should be divided between its elements (hot-house, sail-boat).

(k) Most words ending in ing may be divided at that syllable. When the final consonant is doubled before ing, however, the second consonant is carried over (bid-ding, control-ling). When the verb has an l preceded by a consonant, carry over the letter preceding the l (han-dling, dwin-dling, tin-kling).

(l) Do not divide abbreviations, contractions and numbers (UNDP, won’t, 235 006 114.37). Abbreviations or symbols used with numerals should not be separated from the numerals (16 kg, 0 °C, s. 4, 11:55 a.m.).

(m) Do not divide the last word on a page.


  • Back to the note1 See also P. Kirby, "English Word Division," Termiglobe, VII, 4 (November 1984): 24.