It’s e-mail, with a hyphen

As you can see, I prefer to spell the term e-mail with a hyphen. But I’m often told by peers in the industry that it should be spelled without the hyphen, as email. I intend to put an end to this debate here.

The term e-mail is formed from two words: electronic, and mail. It is a compound noun (sometimes used as a verb), where the first word is an adjective, abbreviated to one letter, as in the term e-commerce (electronic commerce). As such, the term should be spelled with a hyphen. Being a common noun (not a proper noun), capitalization depends on use. For example, if the word begins a sentence, the “E” should be capitalized. Otherwise, it should be lower case. Though proper usage does not require non-authoritative corroboration, you may find it interesting to know that support for this spelling can be found in sources like netlingo.com and Wired magazine. Even more interestingly, authoritative sources like the New Oxford American Dictionary and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary also support this spelling. The Associated Press (AP) style book has officially announced support for the spelling of the term without the hyphen, as email. The move follows their decision last year to change the spelling of the term “web site” to website. Where I disagree in the case of e-mail is that the term “web site” did not have its adjectival component abbreviated (e.g. w-site). The two words were combined, unaltered.

To those that would consider eliminating the hyphen, like the Associated Press, I would remind them that derivations of this form whose noun component begins with a vowel, especially an “e”, will be awkward to read at best. Consider electronic art as eart, or electronic economy as eeconomy. If we decide to make exceptions in these instances we further fragment an already complex and inconsistent language. I would add that the hyphen is also a visual cue for proper pronunciation of the letter “e” with a long vowel sound; to say the name of the letter, and not pronounce its sound based on the letters that follow.

Using a hyphen is often quoted as being quaint or antiquated; a vestige of a simpler time. Since when is such a basic grammatical rule subject to change without due process?

It’s spelled e-mail, with a hyphen. Period.

2 thoughts on “It’s e-mail, with a hyphen

    1. Michael Argentini Post author

      Knuth refers to prior examples like “soft-ware”, but those terms didn’t contain abbreviations (e.g. s-ware). I think that in the case of terms with abbreviations it helps to clarify the pronunciation. It also helps when the second word begins with the same letter as the abbreviated word.

      I know that I’m fighting a losing battle. But I have to fight this one on principle!