Janice Hall Heck

Finding hope in a chaotic world…

#AtoZ, 2014: R is for Resent or Re-sent? Hyphen Hysterics

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

Using prefixes incorrectlycan get you into proverbial hot water.

I recently tweeted this note to my daughter:

I resent your birthday card. It came back to me because I put your old address on the envelope.logo 2.2

Hmmm. That could have caused a bit of trouble. If you read the tweet quickly, it would say,

I resent your birthday…

This message is not only un-clear, but quite possibly problematic.

Just in time, in marches the hyphen-with-prefixes rule to rescue me from this dilemma. Phew! My relationship with my daughter is saved!

What’s the rule?

In general, do not use hyphens on words with prefixes. Attach the syllable re- to almost any verb and you have a perfectly good  new word.

reconsider, redevelop, refresh, refund rejoin, renominate, repay, replace, replay,  restart, recline, reduce, restore, retake, and many more

Well, that was no help. How do I fix this problem before my daughter gets a bad case of hurt feelings?

Oh, there’s an exception? Why does that not surprise me?

Prefixes change the meaning of the root word. The root words carries the meaning; the prefix modifies the meaning. To avoid misunderstanding, in cases where the prefix changes the meaning of the word you intend, use a hyphen.

Examples of pairs of words with the re- prefix that might cause confusion

resent= to be angry, offended, or bitterly hurt by a comment or action by another
re-sent= to send again

really = actual fact or opinion.
re-ally = ally- to join or unite for a specific purpose; re-ally- to join or unite again for a specific purpose

recoil = to spring back, a reaction after shooting a gun
re-coil = to re-coil the hose again

recollect = to remember
re-collect = to gather or collect again

recover = to recover from sickness, get better
re-cover = to cover again

redress = to rectify or set right
re-dress = to dress again

reform = to reform or change your behavior
re-form = to shape again

repair = to fix
re-pair = to form into group of two again

release = release the dog from its lease
re-lease = re lease a car or apartment again

repress = to hide one’s emotions
re-press = to iron the shirt again

research = to search for information on a topic
re-search = to search again for the missing check

resign =  to quit or give up a position
re-sign = to sign a contract

resolve  = to reach a decision in order to end a problem
re-solve = to solve the problem again

resort = a place to go on vacation
re-sort = to divide items into groups again

restrain = to restrain the violent person
re-strain = to strain the fruit juice again

retreat = to pull back to safer ground
re-treat = to give another treat

The Best Rule to follow when using words with prefixes is to consult the dictionary.

Okay, I’m ready for that birthday cake and ice cream now. And we can use that proverbial hot water to make sweet tea.

Photo: sugar delicious online

Photo: sugar delicious online


Your turn: What writing quirks or interesting words do you find in writing?

Janice Hall Heck, retired educator, blogger, and nitpicky editor of On the Horizon, a bi-monthly community newsletter for Horizons at Woods Landing, Mays Landing, NJ, is quite possibly a grammar geek.

logo 2.2Oh Heck! Another Writing Quirk,  theme for the amazing 2014 A to Z Challenge, suggests ways to improve our writing by avoiding and/or eliminating troublesome bug-a-boos that cramp our writing style.


Look for other posts on hyphens in this post: #AtoZ: Q is for Quirky Index and a Q Post Round-Up


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2 thoughts on “#AtoZ, 2014: R is for Resent or Re-sent? Hyphen Hysterics

  1. In conversation with a fellow writer one day he told me he got ‘around’ the issue of an error with some words by inserting a hyphen when he was in doubt.
    Once I realised he was serious, and I controlled the urge to laugh aloud, I used a couple of the examples you’ve given. It was only later that I remembered I didn’t enjoy his book (on my Kindle), because of the bad spelling and word choice.
    Another good post.

  2. Thanks, Tom. Bad spelling and word choice annoy us grammar geeks. Let’s hang together, and we’ll save the world! (Or not.)

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