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We have been asked for some hints on word division in English documents. Basically, words should be divided according to syllables and on the basis of pronunciation.

The main rule is that the pronunciation of the first part of the word must be recognisable before the eye reaches the second part in the following line.

For example: coincidence should be split coinci-dence, not coin-cidence because the reader would incorrectly pronounce (in his mind) the first part of the word (coin – pièce de monnaie ) and would then have to make a mental adjustment on seeing the rest of the word.

Similarly, never split a word so that the second part of the word is unpronounceable. For example, probable could be split prob-able, but not probab-le.

Here are a few more guidelines when dividing words:

  • Never divide names
  • Some words should never be split. These include one syllable words (book, sell) and words where the pronunciation would inevitably be altered. For example, source could only be split sour-ce, but "sour" would be pronounced differently, and understood to mean aigre.
  • Divide hyphenated words at the hyphen. Words should never contain more than one hyphen. For example: sub-contracting (not sub-contract-ing).
  • Divide compound words to form the two separate words. For example: net-work, fire-works, share-holder.
  • Divide words before a suffix or after a prefix (account-able, pre-liminary) unless the words has double letters (get-ting, swim-ming).
  • If possible, the first part of any divided word should contain at least three letters.
  • Never split two letters that form one sound (ea, th, sh). For example: read-able, not re-adable.
  • Never split the last word in a paragraph, as this would mean that the last line in the paragraph would consist of the second part of a word only.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, dividing words should be avoided whenever possible. Written documents should be easy to read, but the splitting of words word at the end of lines will interrupt the reader's flow. Although there is no set rule, in my opinion no more than two or three words should be divided on any given page, and no more than one word per paragraph.

We have also been asked whether the word divisions proposed by Word or other programs can be relied on. If you do select the automatic word division option I would strongly recommend that you then review the word splits.

I have tested this option (in Word 2000) on several different English documents. I found that the program divided far too many words: as many as 8 per page, and 3 in one paragraph under five lines long. Judge for yourselves the effect this gives:

"For the performance of the Contract, completion of the Property shall mean completion as defined in Article R 261-1 of the French Construction and Housing Code ( Code de la Con-struction et de l'Habitation ), in other words, all the structures must be finished and the sys-tems and parts that are essential for use of the Property for its intended purpose must be in-stalled ("Completion")."

Although the program often divided words logically:

invest-ment custo-dian repre-sents finan-cial

this was not always the case. In fact, I identified as many "incorrect" divisions as there were "correct" divisions. For example:


as divided by Word 2000

my suggestion






calcu-lating (calculat- could be followed by –or, or –ion, changing the pronunciation)






actions (no division possible as act-ions would change the pronunciation of the first part)

(Avenue) Hoche


no division possible

All in all, it is probably easier to deactivate this option and insert word divisions manually in the few cases where they are really necessary!

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