How to Do a Redo

Got a question from the Peanut Gallery today. Mike writes:

“I recently signed up for your daily tips and find them most helpful. I have a question for you. When is it appropriate to use a hyphen? I am especially interested in the cases where ‘re’ is used as a prefix, like resend (or re-send?), re-do, reiterate, re-model, etc.”

Generally speaking, Mike, “re-” is an attached prefix with no hyphen. My dictionary has a list of hundreds of words that start with “re” that are not hyphenated, including: reacquire, reanalyze, reassemble, recalculate, recertify, recirculate, recomplete, redrill, refit, refix, reinject, reinstall, reload, remeasure, remix, reorient, repressurize, reschedule, resize, and restart.

I thought it was funny that the four examples you asked about were not on the long list at all. However, they were listed as individual entries, and not one of them was hyphenated.

Now, there are some exceptions – are you SO not surprised?

Although Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary says not to hyphenate even words that have two vowels bumping heads, such as reengineer, the AP Stylebook recommends hyphens when the word following the “re-” prefix starts with an “E.”


Re-elect, re-emerge, re-employ, re-enact, re-engage, re-enlist, re-enter, re-equip, re-establish and re-examine. I would include re-engineer in this batch of exceptions.

The AP Stylebook also recommends using a hyphen to avoid confusion with the meaning.


Recover from an illness (regain) vs. re-cover the algebra lesson in class (cover again)

Reform a criminal (improve) vs. re-form a blue dog out of Play-Doh (form again)

Resign from your CEO job (quit) vs. re-sign a contract to pitch for the Astros (sign again)

So the general rule is: Don’t hyphenate with “re-” unless it starts with “E.”

(I love grammar rules that rhyme!)

And if you do it right the first time, you won’t have to worry how to spell the word!


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