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Up until now I was under the impression that hyphens are very rare in the English language. At least when it comes down to compounds. (This is different from my native language, where it is rather common to use a hyphen in compounds)

I was also under the impression that when both words in the compound are nouns, or it's a compound of a noun and a verb, that it is generally written as a single word, and not two separate words. E.g. Windmill, skyscraper, backstabber, ...

So when I read people saying "Ant-keeping" or "Ant keeping", it felt like it was an error. Because it should be "Antkeeping", right?

Except... then I noticed that virtually everywhere I looked, people wrote either Ant-keeping or Ant keeping. Even Wikipedia writes it like this. The only exception I could find was Nat Geo, where they write it as one word.

And yes, even while typing this question, my spellcorrector says Antkeeping is wrong, and suggests me to either write two words, or use a hyphen.

Can anyone explain to me what the correct way to spell it is? And if so, what is the rule this is based on?

(Ps. probably related (paradoxical) bonus question: while writing this question, my spellcorrector also says "spellcorrector" is written incorrectly. Also in this case it suggests I either add a space, or use a hyphen. What am I missing here??)

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The more familar a compound word becomes, the more likely it is to be merged into a single "word" with no spaces.

So "beekeeping" is a fairly common word, and it is usually spelled without a space. You can talk about a beekeeper; I know several hobbyist and one professional beekeepers. It is still possible to spell the word "bee keeper" or "bee-keeper", but these are less likely nowadays.

But ants are not often kept. So the compound word "ant keeper" is rarer. It is a more modern formation. So it is more likely to spell the word with a space or a hyphen. When you create a new word, like "ant keeper" as a compound word it is normal, initially, to spell it with a space or a hyphen.

Your spellchecker doesn't know the word "antkeeper" since it is a neologism. It does know the word "ant", and the word "keeper" so it will offer the split word.

In short, there is no mistake in spelling "ant keeper" or "ant-keeper" or "antkeeper".

The same applies to "spell corrector". It is normal for English compound words to be spelled with a space, except for those that are familiar enough to become merged. It is more common for me to call that software "spellcheck" not "spellcorrector"

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  • You might want to change spell corrector, which might be useful for a magician, to spelling corrector.
    – Peter
    Jul 22 '21 at 10:37
  • I usually call it a "spellcheck" (and I do tend to compound that without a space)
    – James K
    Jul 22 '21 at 10:55
  • Thanks for your reply. Guess I learned something today. The rules for compounds are different in English than they are in Dutch. Also thanks for the great example of beekeeper! I hadn't even thought of that one yet, even though it's very obvious! One note though: to me (as a non-native speaker) "ant keeping" sounds like you "keep" the ants, as in not doing them away. While "Antkeeping" sounds like you're someone who actually keeps them as pets. Not sure if this is just my gut feeling that misleads me, or if it's also something a native speaker would say?
    – Opifex
    Jul 22 '21 at 11:32
  • Maybe a related example: A garbage collector is someone who collects garbage. As in, collect them for his job to remove it from where it is and bring it elsewhere. A garbagecollector sounds like it's someone who actually collects garbage. As if it were postage stamps. Or is this just my imagination? :)
    – Opifex
    Jul 22 '21 at 11:34
  • "garbagecollector" is not used in English. That one is always two words. I don't see much difference between "ant keeping" and "antkeeping". Since ants have no commercial use, an ant keeper is someone who keeps ants as pets. But it is not a common compound.
    – James K
    Jul 22 '21 at 14:23

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