The hyphen may be small, but its presence – or absence – in a word can make an enormous difference to the meaning.
The English language includes several instances of words where the decision to add or leave out a hyphen can matter. A lot.
And I made it my mission to find them…
It all started with a casual remark
The words that gave me the idea for this blog post were remark and re-mark (which I recently spotted being used incorrectly on a communication from school, no less).
To remark is to say as a comment or notice something, whereas to re-mark is to mark an exam paper again.
Other similar pairs of hyphenated words
Looking through my trusted copy of the Concise Oxford Dictionary, I found several other pairs of words where the addition of a hyphen completely alters the meaning:
|Recover (v)||Get well again||Re-cover (v)||Put a new cover on|
|Redress (v)||Remedy or set right||Re-dress (v)||Dress again|
|Reform (v)||Make changes to something in order to improve it||Re-form (v)||Form or cause to be formed again|
|Represent (v)||Be appointed to act or speak for||Re-present (v)||Present again|
|Reserve (v)||Retain for future use||Re-serve (v)||Serve again|
|Resign (v)||Voluntarily leave a job or position||Re-sign (v)||Sign (a document or contract) again|
|Resoluble (adj)||Able to be resolved||Re-soluble (adj)||Able to dissolve or be dissolved again|
|Coop (n)||Cage or pen for confining poultry||Co-op (n)||Cooperative organisation|
Are you starting to see a pattern yet? It’s not hard to spot!
With each of the words in the second column, the prefixes re (once more) or co (joint/mutual) need to be followed by a hyphen to avoid confusion – distinguishing them from an existing word offering what would otherwise be the same spelling but a totally different meaning.
So, there you have it. Quite remarkable, don’t you think? Or should that be re-markable?!