hyphenationMandatory for justified text; optional otherwise

Hy­phen­ation is the au­to­mated process of break­ing words be­tween lines to cre­ate more con­sis­tency across a text block.

In jus­ti­fied text, hy­phen­ation is mandatory.

In left-aligned text, hy­phen­ation evens the ir­reg­u­lar right edge of the text, called the rag. Hy­phen­ation is op­tional for left-aligned text be­cause the rag will still be some­what ir­reg­u­lar, even with hy­phen­ation. Hy­phen­ation doesn’t im­prove text leg­i­bil­ity. In this case, con­sider turn­ing it off.

As line length gets shorter, hy­phen­ation be­comes es­sen­tial. Why? With hy­phen­ation off, your word proces­sor or web browser can only break lines at word spaces. As the lines get shorter, there are fewer words and hence fewer pos­si­ble break points in each line, mak­ing awk­ward breaks more likely.

How to turn hyphenation on (or off)

WordPage LayoutPage Setup panel → HyphenationAutomatic (or None)

Mac OS WordToolsHyphenation → check (or uncheck) Automatically hyphenate document

PagesViewShow Toolbar (or op­tion + ⌘ + t) → Document but­ton → Document pane → check (or uncheck) Hyphenation

CSSUse hy­phens: auto, though sup­port is still spotty

Some­times you may want to sup­press au­to­matic hy­phen­ation. For in­stance, head­ings are rel­a­tively short, so hy­phen­ation of­ten causes more prob­lems than it solves.

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Hy­phen­ation can be sup­pressed in a sin­gle para­graph, or a set of para­graphs, if you sup­press hy­phen­ation within para­graph and char­ac­ter styles.

How to suppress hyphenation in a paragraph

WordRight-click in the text and se­lect ParagraphLine and Page BreaksDon’t hyphenate

PagesViewShow Toolbar (or op­tion + ⌘ + t) → Format but­ton → More pane → Remove paragraph hyphenation

CSSUse hy­phens: none

by the way
  • In word proces­sors, you can ex­ert rudi­men­tary con­trol over au­to­matic hy­phen­ation. If you’re cu­ri­ous, search your help file for “hy­phen­ation op­tions.” Over the years, I’ve never touched these, so I doubt you’ll need to ei­ther. The non­break­ing hy­phen and the op­tional hy­phen solve most hy­phen­ation prob­lems, and even those are pretty rare.

  • In pro page-lay­out pro­grams, you can ex­ert a lot of con­trol over au­to­matic hy­phen­ation (usu­ally in con­junc­tion with jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, so all the set­tings to­gether are known as H&Js).

  • In web browsers, you can ex­ert al­most no con­trol over au­to­matic hy­phen­ation, so if you use CSS hy­phen­ation, be pre­pared for some clunkers.

  • If you’re us­ing a web con­tent-man­age­ment sys­tem like Word­Press, an al­ter­na­tive hy­phen­ation method is to use a plu­gin that puts soft hy­phens (aka op­tional hy­phens) in the text. Soft hy­phens are well sup­ported in web browsers, even browsers that don’t sup­port CSS hy­phen­ation (e.g., desk­top Chrome). This also al­lows some­what more con­trol over hy­phen­ation. But it’s more work. If your project de­mands full jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, this might be worth it. Oth­er­wise, prob­a­bly not.

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