If you work in business, plan financial meetings, or volunteer for planning committees, you may have asked, “What is biannual?” Many readers are uncertain of the definition and about how to use this term, because we often see the term bi-annual used in its place. So, what is bi-annual? Thankfully, the answer is simple and can easily relieve some of the confusion in your next meeting.
Basically, biannual refers to any event that happens twice in one year. This is important to understand, because many businesses review their company’s financial status at least twice a year. Additionally, we use this term often in our daily lives, so knowing when to use biannual will let your guests know, for example, that your charity event happens twice every year. How do we eliminate confusion? The next time your coworkers ask you, “What is biannual?” you can confidently educate them.
Now that “What is biannual?” has been answered, you may be left wondering, “Okay, what is bi-annual?” Does the hyphen mean something? While it may seem logical to hyphenate biannual, the rules of hyphenation are simple: we should hyphenate root words with prefixes only to avoid word confusion. To clarify, if we have a prefix ending in i next to a root word starting with i, this word construction could confuse the reader. For example, connecting the prefix semi would result in semiindependent, which might seem like a typing error at first glance. In this instance, hyphenating this prefix helps to eliminate confusion.
On the other hand, we would not hyphenate biannual, because the root word and prefix are easily understood without the hyphen. So, what is bi-annual? Simply an error in the writer’s understanding of hyphenation standards. The next common usage confusion is a little more subtle but no less important.
Another word that is often confused when we discuss event planning is biennial. This term refers to anything that happens once every two years. To clarify, your business may hold biannual in-services to inform employees of changes in company policy, and the corporate executives of that company may hold biennial conferences to review how these policies have improved their business model. It’s that simple.
If you find you are still struggling with biannual and biennial, the best practice, according to the Chicago Manual of Style, is to use semiannual instead of biannual and use every other year instead of biennial. Clarifying how you want to use these terms will tell you which word you should choose so that your readers can properly interpret the message in your writing.
Considering the complexity of the English language with all its rules and their multiple exceptions, it’s easy to understand how bi-annual, biannual, and biennial can be a source of confusion. But refreshing yourself on the basics of hyphens and word usage will help relieve your word-choice woes.
Like this post? Check out this post on a similar topic and this post on e.g. versus i.e.
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