Basic Book Design/Word Division

Hyphenation (properly called word division) is breaking long words between lines. The purpose of hyphenation is to reduce the white space between words. A line with little white space is called a close line. A line with wide white spaces is called an open line.

A second purpose of hyphenation is to make your document shorter.

A sign of amateur design is too much white space between words. A professionally designed book has an even grayness on each page, not splotchy darker and lighter paragraphs.

But another sign of amateur design is bad hyphenation. Follow these rules:

  • Hyphenate only between syllables.
  • Don’t hyphenate across a turned page, i.e., from a recto to a verso.
  • The Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t allow more than three successive lines to end in hyphens (6.58). In my opinion, this is too liberal; I don’t end two lines in a row with hyphens.
  • Never hyphenate a website URL. If it’s too long for a line, make a URL into an extract (see below) and break the URL at a backslash.

The Chicago Manual of Style (6.44-49) lists four pages of addi-tional rules for word division, e.g., not dividing personal names. The Chicago Manual of Style (6.49) allows dividing words with two letters (but never one letter, 6.48) before the division. It doesn’t allow leaving two letters after the division (6.49). This makes no sense to me. The reader should be able to recognize the word from the part before the division. The part after the division doesn’t affect the reader’s recognition of a word. I suggest instead trying to keep four or five letters before the division, and accepting two letters after a division.

E.g., if you know the first five letters, you can guess most words:

You shoul not have a probl readi this sente. (5 letters)
Four lett divi are also not hard to read. (4 letters)
In con, if you hyp at thr let, it is muc har to rec wor. (3 letters)
Re wo fr th fi tw le wo ch ev Va Wh. (2 letters— Recognizing words from the first two letters would challenge even Vanna White.)

Hyphenate Compound WordsEdit

If two words have a special meaning when used together, they form a compound word. Hyphenate compound words. If you don’t, the reader might get confused.

…the ear splitting log.
…the ear-splitting siren.

The former sentence means that the ear was splitting a log, like an ax. The latter sentence means that the siren was loud. I.e., in the former sentence, the ear splits the log. In the latter sentence the siren splits the ear.

However, words ending in ly do not follow this rule. Do not hyphenate two words when the first word ends in ly. E.g., “…the beautifully painted staircase.”

The Chicago Manual of Style further explains compound words. It provides great examples and explanations for knowing when to hyphenate between words. The table is a great tool to use when determining proper usage. One of the latest updates to the hyphenation table can be found on Chicago Manual of Style's website, The Chicago Manual of Style Online, in chapter seven's section titled, "Spelling, Distinctive Treatment of Words, and Compounds," namely section 7.85. Various examples of this hyphenation table may also be found online without a subscription to CMoS, but be aware of the version and source for proper adherence to the most current grammar rules.

Hanging PunctuationEdit

Professional typesetters extend some punctuation marks, e.g., hyphenation, beyond the right margin. Word processors can’t do this.