I'm aware that you should add an hyphen in un-American and not add a hyphen in unstylish.

How about when it's a foreign word and, therefore, you're creating a new usage?

Talking to my parents is the only un-hikikomori part of me.

Note: hikikomori is a Japanese word meaning recluse.

  • 2
    Just a personal opinion (obviously there are no absolute rules governing how such "hybrid portmanteau" words should be constructed), but I don't think un- is the best prefix here. I'd use non- (with hyphen, and probably "scare quotes" as well, cos it ain't English!). Oct 5, 2020 at 12:19
  • 1
    ...I suspect the only reason we usually (but not always) hyphenate un-American, un-British is just that we don't like the look of the bare "CamelCase" format in this context, where the thing being negated positively demands capitalisation. Oct 5, 2020 at 12:27

1 Answer 1


Yes, you do need the hyphen.

Although "un-" is a recognised prefix, words like undo, unstylish etc are words in their own right and appear in the dictionary. The flexibility of English means that we often do make new words with recognisable prefixes, but when you add "un-" to a word in order to negate it, you really do need the hyphen otherwise the new word might not be recognisable.

An added problem with prefixing a proper noun is that you can't capitalise it unless you hyphenate (ie you can't write "unAmerican").

Even more so with your example - you want to put an English prefix onto Japanese word! Many English speakers would not realise that it had a prefix unless they were already very familiar with the original Japanese word. They wouldn't recognise that you had added the prefix and would wonder what "unhikikomori" meant.

If a compound word it isn't in the dictionary, as a rule of thumb, hyphenate it.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .