Breaking up words and URLs at the end of a line

Earlier, we talked about soft hyphens vs. hard hyphens (see my post on hyphens).

Hard hyphens are permanent (as in the word twenty-five); soft hyphens are used only at the end of a line to break up a word.

Here are some principles to keep in mind when breaking up words at the end of a line:

• don’t break up a word so that only one letter occurs by itself

    not:
    a-
    bove

• try to break up a compound word where there’s already a hard hyphen without adding a second, soft hyphen

    not:
    three-quar-
    ters

    but:
    three-
    quarters

• never break up single-syllable words

    not:
    gasp-
    ed

(even though it has two parts, gasp and -ed, gasped is pronounced as one syllable)

• break up words at a syllable break

    not:
    dram-
    atic

    but:
    dra-
    matic

Some dictionaries indicate where words may be divided. For example, the Canadian Oxford Dictionary uses dots:

    eu•phem•ism

URLs

Because each character in a website address is crucial, URLs have their own set of rules for where you may break them. Here’s an overview:

1) for starters, never insert a hyphen in a URL

So, while you can break up a URL at the end of a line, you never add a hyphen when you do so. The reason is that it creates confusion whether the hyphen is part of the URL or not.

2) break a URL after a colon (:), a slash (/), a double slash (//), or @

Likely, people will realize that this is not the end of the URL address and continue reading on to the next line.

3) break a URL before a period or any other punctuation mark or symbol

This is to avoid giving the impression that the URL ends at the end of the first line.

4) if the URL already contains a hyphen, never break after the hyphen; you may break before the hyphen

Again, the reason is to avoid ambiguity whether the hyphen is part of the URL or not.

5) if you have a long stretch of text, break at a syllable break

Ready for a test?

Which of the following URLs have been broken up correctly? (The first line has the unbroken URL; below that is the URL broken up.)

(a) URL: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org

(b) URL: http://www.sil.org:8090/silebr/2012/silebr2012-007

(c) URL: https://reviewediting.wordpress.com/

(d) URL: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/?CTT=97

(e) URL: http://www.wycliffe.ca/wordalive/

(f) URL: http://www.weatheroffice.gc.ca/city/pages/bc-81_metric_e.html

(g) URL: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=acts %2012&version=KJV

Answers:

(a) is incorrect: break should come before the period

(b) is correct: break occurs after colon

(c) is incorrect: never add a hyphen when breaking up a URL (without the hyphen the break would be OK because it occurs at a syllable boundary)

(d) is incorrect: break should come before the hyphen, never after the hyphen

(e) is correct: break occurs before the period

(f) is correct: break occurs before the underline

(g) is incorrect: break should come after slash

Dirk

dirk_kievit@editors.ca
www.DirkKievit.org

(Image at top courtesy of Free Digital Photos. Please understand that I cannot vouch for the appropriateness of all images on that site.)

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