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Separations.

Nobody knows how to spell email. You might say, ‘nobody knows how to spell e-mail,’ but you’d be wrong. Or would you?

The issue of email vs. e-mail clearly raises blood pressures across the world. At the time of writing, the spelling question is right at the top of the Wikipedia article on e-mail. Meanwhile, a group calling itself the Email Experience Council has declared the official term to be email. They’ve even got a petition.

The Compact OED in Britain allows email, while both Merriam-Webster and the Chicago Manual of Style in the States demand e-mail. It’s interesting to note that the OED prides itself on reflecting trends in spelling and word usage—they were in the news last year for dropping 16,000 hyphens from the Shorter Dictionary (no jokes, please)—while Chicago takes a more dictatorial stance. However, this isn’t really an Atlantic question.

Let’s have a look at the word in the wild:

  • Apple uses email
  • Microsoft usually uses e-mail but sometimes email
  • Adobe uses both
  • Google uses email
  • Yahoo uses email
  • CNN uses e-mail
  • Perhaps maintaining the famous “BBC balance”, the BBC website uses e-mail within news stories but seems to use email on the rest of the site
  • The New York Times uses e-mail
  • direct.gov.uk uses email
  • usa.gov uses both

There’s a definite trend here. People who write about technology tend to go for e-mail, while the people who actually work with technology either use email or both. I think that’s a good argument in favour of email.

The argument that supporters of e-mail often make is the lack of precedent. X-ray has never become Xray, T-shirts are not Tshirts, and you drive round an S curve rather than a Scurve. However, these are very specific words which use their initial letter for its shape rather than any specific meaning. If you’re interested, they’re covered in 7.67 of the Chicago Manual of Style. (The possible exception to this is X-ray, where the “X” simply stands for unknown—see also The X-Files and Cold War B-movie X for Unknown.) (Again, the “B” in B-movie isn’t an abbreviation. Even if it was, I don’t see bmovie ever happening.)

Regarding other e-words, the OED still supports e-commerce, e-government, etc. This doesn’t have to be a contradiction, though. The hyphen doesn’t come packed into all words by default. It’s used specifically where it’s needed to aid comprehension. When it’s no longer required it can be removed, as shown by the OED’s latest revision. Unhyphenated, words like ecommerce and egovernment might trip us over, so they need a helping hand. Nobody is seriously in danger of not understanding email. (’What’s this? Email? Some French chap trying to communicate with me through my computer, perhaps. But…how?’)

What we have in e-mail is a spelling which has come into existence and then become antiquated, all within the space of a few short decades. As Angus Stevenson, editor of the Shorter OED, comments in the BBC article linked above, e-mail—with the hyphen—is ’starting to look like something your grandmother might write.’

At least there’s one thing that everybody is agreed on: whether it’s e-mail or email, it isn’t capitalised. Unless it’s at the beginning of a sentence, obviously.

Note: this post first appeared on my old blog, The Serial Comma, in September 2007. That domain now forwards here, and there are a few links pointing in to that page, so I’ve updated it and reposted it here.

85 Comments on “Spelling: email vs. e-mail”

  1. Jeremy Scott Says:

    I’ve just realized, after reading your article, I don’t believe I’ve even though how about whether I typed “e-mail” or “email”, but I’m pretty sure I’ve typed “e-mail” all of my life.

    It isn’t like I’m against using “email”, I’m just so use to typing “e-mail” that it actually might take me longer to type “email” instead of “e-mail” because I would have to think about it, at least until I get use to it.

    Perhaps that’s what I’ll do. Heck, I’m one of the laziest people I know, so a little bit a work to break a small habit to save myself from typing thousands of hyphens in the future might pay off.

    Then again, with the rate technology is moving, “typing” will become obsolete soon, and I might not have to type another hyphen again. 🙂

  2. Stephen Says:

    Thanks for the research and post! I expect kids in 5 years to be mispronouncing it “em ail” with the short e.

    Maybe you should join the hip crowd and change your comment field from “Mail” to “email”. 😉

  3. Rob Says:

    Oops, I hadn’t noticed that…

    Something to do in my next web session!

  4. Do you email or e-mail? | Digital Quest Says:

    […] up the search term email vs e-mail and you will find several discussions on the topic. Rob has a nice post on this topic in his […]

  5. Light, Motion and Magic » Blog Archive » An Excellent Customer email Strategy Says:

    […] with a hyphen versus spelling ‘email’ without a hyphen. I found interesting articles at The Fiction Desk, Digital Quest and Motivated Grammar. The consensus seems to agree with what I’ve personally […]

  6. Felix Says:

    What I understand is that Merriam-Webster English dictionaries rely on professionally edited works, scholarly publications, and other documented sources, whether in print or available from such online sources as the LexisNexis database (as opposed to Internet search engines, which yield results from just about any type of source, including garbage and incidences of English words used in non-English context). So, naturally, these dictionaries would reflect the usages and would show the commonest forms of words found in professionally edited printed books, newspapers, journals, and the like. Merriam-Webster acknowledges the usage variation in the English language and doesn’t prescribe one form of a word over another. They merely document the language and enter in their dictionaries the most common form of the word found in documented sources I mentioned above. So, perhaps Merriam-Webster will add the variant form “email” in its dictionaries if the form goes anywhere near in frequency to “e-mail” in those sources in the future. Thank you for reading my comment.

  7. Rob Says:

    Hi Felix,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I think the issue here is that Merriam-Webster, OED, etc. take their usage from reputable media sources, while those same sources take their usage from the dictionaries. This creates a loop which can be a little slow to pick up on authentic changes to spelling or usage.

    In this case, I’m suggesting that the people who work most with email, eg those in the technology industry, have adopted the “email” spelling, and that it’s therefore worth looking at adopting that one as the standard. In time, I think we will, and that’s backed up by Oxford’s acceptance of the spelling, on both sides of the Atlantic.

    The disparity between “official” and actual usage is clear in the BBC website, which uses one spelling for their general site and the other for their news content.

    I should probably also point out that when I talk about Google using “email” over “e-mail”, I’m talking about their own online content and information, rather than their search results!

  8. Felix Says:

    Thanks, Rob. I was talking only of what I know about the descriptive Merriam-Webster, which, judging from their dictionary-making policy and the current state of the word in question, I think will not be interested in adopting only the form “email” as the standard between the two (see the Explanatory Notes section of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, under “Main Entries,” for an explanation) nor will they demand “e-mail” (see under “Main Entries” again). You’re right about the loop, but not everyone is in that loop. (Thanks to Oxford for somewhat breaking the loop.) Maybe Merriam-Webster now acknowledges and accepts the form “email” and might enter it as a variant form of “e-mail” in the next edition or printing of the Collegiate.

    Also, I knew that you’re talking about Google’s online content, not their search results, under “the word in the wild” list.

  9. Dave Grady Says:

    As a former English teacher and (more recently) IT programmer and consultant, I strongly prefer “email”. There is no benefit to the hyphen, and the commonly accepted contraction ought to be preferred.

    After all, you know what they say about excessive hyphenation…

    “…here to-day, gone to-morrow!”

    [P.S. Yes, that is exactly how “today” and “tomorrow” used to be spelled.]

  10. Larry Sanger Says:

    I work in the Internet industry (I co-founded Wikipedia) and I’ve always used “e-mail” and I am the determiner of all that is hip, too! OK, not really. I’m sure I’m not hip at all. But since when did hipness determine orthography? For that matter, since when did coders, who in my experience are often rather poor writers, outweigh professional journalists specifically on matters orthographical? If football players started writing “futbol” would you prefer their spelling over the sports journalists? Also, the hyphen seems to have a function, but I’m hard pressed to say precisely what it is. No, sure it’s clear enough–you say the long “e” in pronouncing the word, and if there’s no hyphen, the word ceases to be phonetic. The same thing justifies “t-shirt,” “x-ray” and the rest. Also, I’d like to point out that the “email” spelling is nothing new, of course…

  11. Rob Says:

    Hi Larry,

    I agree that you wouldn’t look to an individual coder’s or sportsman’s writing for best-practice spellings, but I don’t think that’s what I did here. The sources I quoted weren’t the amateur writing of people in the industry, but professional communications from within the industry, directed at the general public. Not a programmer’s blog but the publicity materials of Apple, Adobe, and Microsoft, the British and American government websites, and the communications of media leaders like the BBC, Google, and Yahoo (no sniggering at the back).

    So a better analogy might be not how football players spell the name of their game, but how the professional associations, leagues, equipment manufacturers and sports magazines spell the word in their published materials. And those are exactly the sort of sources you’d expect to go to if you were updating a dictionary of sports terms.

  12. Lewis Eisen Says:

    Words do not exist in a vacuum, and the spelling of a word should take into consideration the need for consistency and symmetry in the language.

    Virtually all English words that use a single letter as a prefix are connected to the stem with a hyphen, q.v.:

    A-bomb not Abomb
    T-shirt not Tshirt
    X-ray not Xray
    I-beam not Ibeam
    S-curve not Scurve
    …etc.

    Other than the corrupted form “email” I am unable to find another word that is an exception to this rule. Moreover, using the hyphen is consistent with other compounds using “e” as a short-form for “electronic,” q.v.

    e-commerce not ecommerce
    e-business not ebusiness
    e-registration not eregistration
    e-map not emap
    e-paper not epaper
    e-cash not ecash
    …etc.

    Words like “to-day” becoming “today” are not analagous, because those words are not formed with a single-letter prefix.

  13. Carey Says:

    Lewis,

    Trying to adhere to regularity in a natural language is an exercise in futility. These things happen. You’re free to continue writing “e-mail”, but your efforts to convince others are not going to be very effective in the long run.

  14. Delia Says:

    I don’t know when I stopped using e-mail but it was years ago. I’m another English teacher turned web designer now working for a US corporation. That style guide uses e-mail which is driving all of us in my section crazy.

    Of course, email is phoneically e-mail – how else would you pronounce it? It’s essentially a made up word to begin with and considering the speed of technological changes today, e-mail is “like, twenty century, man!”

    Language is going to change faster now and in the future. Many hyphenated words drop the hyphen as usage demands – and the demand continues to speed up as our world speeds up!

  15. Lewis Eisen Says:

    We should meet facetoface to have a catchall discussion about the misuse of punctuation by hyphendropping writers in newfangled words.

  16. airis Says:

    thankee.

  17. August West Says:

    As an English teacher, I prefer “e-mail” for the sensible reasons that have been stated by previous posters. Additionally, though, there is no rule in English phonics that would lead someone to pronounce “email” as “EE-mail.” Words like egalitarian, Egypt, egress, egret or ego all are exceptions to the rules of English phonics. In nearly all cases, “e”/consonant/vowel is pronounced with either the short e sound or the schwa.

    So, for issues relating to compounding words with an initial letter (H-bomb) as well as for maintaining the logic of phonetic rules, I will continue to teach my students to use “e-mail.”

  18. JoaquinT Says:

    Why don’t we just drop the word email/e-mail from the English vocabulary and call it simply “mail”? Anyway, at the rate mail exchanges are going around using the Internet, the post office may go bankrupt anytime soon, at least will save the word “mail” from going with the fate of the dinosaurs, lol.

  19. Martha Davidson Says:

    All good points. I was inclined toward email, but now I’m back on the fence.

    I think email just looks like it should be pronounced EM-ail. Like Emily. On the other hand, emissions is not pronounced EMissions, is it?
    I do agree that we need all the time-savers (timesavers) we can get. How much time could we save if we didn’t have to type that annoying hyphen?
    I like the idea of going straight from e-mail to mail…Then, that other kind of mail can be snail mail, or s-mail. Or smail.

    E-mail is not really a made-up word. It was once electronic mail, yes? And, I know H-bomb was hydrogen bomb. But what was T-shirt?

  20. Rob Says:

    Hi Martha,

    The New Oxford American Dictionary suggests that T-shirts get their name because they have the shape of a T when laid out flat.

  21. Lewis Eisen Says:

    I think some people want us to be spelling it tshirt.

    Looks silly without the hyphen, doesn’t it?

  22. Gary Says:

    There are well over 300,000 entries in the OED. Are we expected to memorize how to pronounce every one? Of course not. That’s what phonics rules are for. That’s also why it is important to maintain those rules as we add new words because at the rate we are inventing new terms, the dictionary could easily double in size within our lifetimes.

    Parsing the character stream “email” into syllables should result in em_ail, because without the hyphen, the letter E would have to form its own syllable, which is odd in the extreme. “Em” is the name of the letter M. Is M sick? No, I don’t think so. What we really have with “email” is a case of e-lazy and e-sloppy with a dash of e-ignorance and e-apathy thrown in.

    As for the argument that professionals are using “email” so it must be right, consider the case of Hewlett-Packard, who in 2001 paid some big bucks to buy the back cover of several trade rags to advertise their storage array, then obviously couldn’t scrape up enough to pay a copy editor. The result was an advertisement which didn’t actually say what they obviously meant.

    When people communicate casually, such as in a forum like this, it is expected there will be typos, a few outright spelling mistakes, and some improper grammar. The casual and informal nature of the forum lessens the expectation of strict correctness. This is both customary and logical, but as our society becomes more electronically connected, people seem to be loosing the ability to recognize the distinction between situations where they need to think, compose, edit, and THEN orate versus situations where they are hangin with their BFF and suckin down brewskies at the sports pub.

    People who should know better will often make horrible language mistakes in forums where they should have taken more care with their writing. Does that make it OK? Of course not.

    The ONLY argument I have seen for “email” that makes sense is that it is the form required by IETF. Since IETF owns the standards which glue the Internet together, it is reasonable that they can name their baby what they want to. Of course that would make it a proper noun, so then we should be writing “Email” rather than “email”.

    Personally I prefer “E-mail” with a capital E. It is a stand-in for “electronic”, so that makes it an acronym, but often overlooked is the problem that E-mail is often used incorrectly from a grammatical sense.

    In traditional mail, we send letters, which contain messages and are enclosed within envelopes. Collectively or generically they are called mail, but when we refer to a particular piece of mail, we never refer to it as a mail. It is a letter or a card. Terms for electronic mail should follow logically, so when someone says, “That E-mail contains a virus”, they aren’t really saying what they probably mean.

  23. John Self Says:

    Carey’s comment at number 13 above is the endpoint of this discussion; nothing further needs to be said. There is no point in arguing with logic for ‘e-mail’ or ’email’ – people will write it whichever way they wish and my expectation is that the hyphen will disappear in most usages before long.

  24. Tony D Says:

    I’m with Lewis above #12. Structure is a better direction than chaos for obvious reasons. …looking at the big picture.
    Correct spelling is e-mail.
    Spelling it without a hyphen crosses the border into “slangsville, man…”

  25. Oxy-Moron Says:

    While on the subject of mail without the “e”, has anyone wondered why the Royal Mail delivers post, and the US Postal Service delivers mail?

  26. Kazar Says:

    TGhe word e-mail just looks so much better and more formal. “Email” is actually a color.

  27. Justine Cullinan Says:

    I’ve instinctively used e-mail ever since the word came into play (in the old days I think the NY Times actually capitalized the E, which I think was a mistake quickly rectified. Sometimes, too, I use the word e-message to relate to the substance of the correspondence ….

  28. DarrkAngel Says:

    I work in the medical editing field and have to follow AMA style which calls for the word to be spelled as “e-mail”. Doesn’t bother me much since that’s the form I’ve always used anyway 😛

  29. Seth Says:

    May/2003: I had an A paper reduced to a B in a Magazine Writing class in college because the Professor felt “e-mail” was more grammatically correct than “email.” I now write email rather than e-mail, it just feels better in light of this injustice.

  30. Holly Says:

    May/2010: I create a resource guide for our early childhood program and just noticed today the work “email”. I have always used e-mail, but in this guide I had been typing email. Confused because everyone else was unsure also the proper way – I resourced the web and found this site – very resourceful.

  31. Kerry Says:

    I personally use ’email’, myself. I feel that ‘e-mail’ looks a bit old-fashioned, for some reason. Perhaps it’s because most new media use ’email’ on their sites, rather than ‘e-mail’, which I associate with print publications, which tend to be a bit behind the curve where the internet is concerned.

  32. John Says:

    I find this interesting… having been raised in a Franco-Anglo household, we were always sure to use “E-mail”, because “émail” in French is “enamel” and sometimes accents aren’t used if we’re rushing and not using a French keyboard. That being said, I think I’ve come to accept “email” now, but it bothers me somewhere. I feel like the spelling of English is being butchered by the likes of “e-mail” and text messaging. So many people don’t know how to spell properly. It’s sad because I’ve always taken pride in knowing multiples languages and knowing them properly. Ah well… what can ya do, eh?

    I will probably continue to use both depending on how I feel towards hyphens at the time. 🙂

    Now the next question is regarding the plural form… “emails” or “email” still?

  33. Casandra Says:

    I like Bill Walsh’s argument in favor of keeping the hyphen: “The problem with “e-mail” is that it’s not a simple compound noun. It’s an initial-letter-based abbreviation, and no initial-letter-based abbreviation in the history of the English language has ever morphed into a solid word.” For the full rationale, visit http://www.theslot.com/email.html

  34. Maggie Says:

    Why don’t we scrap the hyphen and use camel case, making it eMail, like iPod? No one pronounces the i in iPod as a soft i.

    No, just kidding. I use email, and while I’m usually a Chicago Manual of Style fan, and tend toward the grammar dictator myself, I too find the hyphen antiquated. English has so many exceptions to phonics and other rules that in this case I don’t find it a fight worth fighting.

  35. Vincent Verstijnen Says:

    First of all my English is not good, but I’ll give it a try. I am really surprised by the fact the native English speaking countries neglect their own language. Maybe because everybody is in a hurry nowadays, more slang is used.
    I am Dutch and even in Dutch it is “electronic mail –> e-mail”. No discussion about that.
    Like more countries/languages in the world we have adopted the English name(s). Email (without the accent!) in Dutch is the stuff the outher side of your tooth is made of. Correct spelling in English and more languages is e-mail; email is for lazy people and yought.

  36. Tim Mantyla Says:

    Email is much easier to type, a consideration not mentioned in any posts above.
    Ease of use is a strong rationale for any language change, because most people tend to want to save time and effort in speaking as well as writing. “Email” saves keystrokes in this case.
    I find it annoying to have to reach down for the shift key, then up with the pinky for the hyphen key.
    Look how close the letters e, m, a, i, and l are to the primary finger position on the keyboard for touch-typing.
    IThat is a driving factor that will turn the tide toward email vs. e-mail.

  37. Tim Mantyla Says:

    The comment about dictionaries and established sources working together in a “closed loop” made great sense as well.

    This self-sustaining loop leaves out much valuable real-world experience and knowledge. It slows down the evolution of English, often making dictionaries and usage authorities look like fuddy-duddies.

    For a fascinating related article, see “Tech Writers, Grammar, and the Prescriptive Attitude” by Bruce Byfield–a self-described “recovering academic”–on the technical communication forum techwr-l.com (or TechWhirl as it’s known to subscribers).

    I commented on his piece: “It gang-spanks the pedantic practices of pompous prescriptivists into deep, dank and sorrowful submission!”

    What a bold theory—that writing should simply communicate—and not merely be squeezed into ill-fitting, hoary, biased and rotting formats.”

    The prescriptive approach sustains the overall structure of English, but can’t contain the continued evolution of English as it is used by diverse groups and cultures–whose usage continue to change it in unpredictable ways.

    The change from “e-mail” to “email” is just one of many such changes that is happening as we watch and participate.

  38. Bruce Pennington Says:

    It should be obvious by now:
    E-mail is a verb and email is a noun!

  39. Deborah J. Weaver Says:

    It is interesting to me that this thread stretches back to 2008. Like others, I stumbled on this blog when I was doing research on the spelling. I am currently teaching a business English class at a community college where this very question came up the first week of the course.

    I used “e-mail” as the correct spelling in the 90s (AP not MLA plural style) when I was a full-time academic. I went to work for an IT company in 2005 and realized that everyone was using “email” and, soon after, switched over. This blog article gives me some insight into why they were using the term “email.”

    I agree with the post in #37 that language is a living, breathing “thing.” I earned a master’s degree in linguistics at that start of my career, but lived on my minor, English, for more than 20 years (not twenty as I am writing using business English rules rather than MLA style). Linguistics is descriptive of the way a native speaker actually USES language, while style manuals and even most of the posters above, our prescriptive of the way people SHOULD use a language. Two very different approaches indeed.

    Our discussion of email vs e-mail is representative of the two approaches. “Email” is the spelling used by those who develop, manage, and advance the Internet (why this is capitalized is another discussion). “E-mail” is used by those who see themselves as bearing responsiblity for prescribying “proper” English usage.

    It is interesting that different style guides provide different “rules” for the conundrum of which we write. To me, style guides have always been analagous to house rules when it comes to playing cards. Whoever owns the house sets the rules.

    So rather than dictate to the entire English-speaking world the answer to the question under discussion, we each will go by the “house rules” of our industry, discipline, etc. That is what I teach my students.

    Our textbook, selected by others not by me, dictates “e-mail” as the correct spelling for business English, so that is what I and my students will use this semester. In other venues, I will continue to use “email” because, as someone else has pointed out, that is the easiest way to “type” it.

  40. LBTM Says:

    To me, this discussion reflects the degradation of society in general and the push by the base masses to overwhelm the civilized few. I know that’s an elitist stance, but when it comes to language, someone has to take one. Just because a lot of people like to write “email” doesn’t mean it SHOULD be written that way. When should we accept “kewl” as an appropriate alternative to “cool”? The day that shows up in any legitimate dictionary is the day I move to Siberia.

    The whole “closed loop” argument makes no sense to me. You’re basically saying: “People who are educated writers do it this way, and those who want to do it correctly look to the educated writers, so we clearly can’t trust either of those.” What? This is a classic contemporary American argument. “I WANT to do it this way, so that means it’s right.” It only appears to be a closed loop because it is not including those who don’t know what they’re talking about. The argument that people who are actually in the industry know how to use words better, in this case, is equally ridiculous. It’s like saying: “Let’s figure out what the best way to design an airplane is. Hmmm, should we go to the aerospace engineer who does this for a living? Nah, let’s talk to the mechanic who WORKS on the planes. That’s the guy (or girl) who is REALLY going to know how to do it.” Seriously? That argument is asinine. Again, just because someone uses something doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to use it properly.

    When it comes down to it, “email” is a meaningless non-word. “E-mail” is, hands down, the appropriate spelling. If ppl r kewl wit spellin wat evr day want to an keypin it ez, den go 4 it. If you submit to the “follow the trends of the masses” argument, the “fabulous” sentence I just produced is where we’re heading. If you actually care about language and enjoy its usage, write e-mail the way it is meant to be written.

  41. You’ve Got Mail « Atypical Librarian Says:

    […] of “email.” Confident in my word choice I Googled it for further validation and found this interesting read at a blog called The Fiction Desk  where the spelling “email” is described as looking “like something your […]

  42. PC Says:

    It seems strange to me that in all this discussion of e-mail, or “email,” there doesn’t seem to be much weight given to the origin of the word as a contraction of “electronic mail.” Although it is easier to leave off the hyphen, the hyphen provides a clue to the pronunciation and origin of the word, so i don’t see any reason to leave it off except in SMS or MMS text or perhaps file names.

  43. Roger Lane Glumm Says:

    Ironically, this article was forwarded to me by a friend with whom I’ve discussed just that very matter. Also ironically, my preferred method was not even discussed, “e-Mail”.

    I feel that the “e” and the “mail” should be more separated, but, upon reflection, I realize that using both the hyphen and the capitalization is overkill. I guess, for purposes of compromise, I like eMail, although my spell checker clearly doesn’t.

  44. John Says:

    I’ve been a technical writer for 14 years. I believe I know the reason for the change to the shortened version, which is simply that it’s used so frequently. I’m sure it’s not uncommon for anyone working in an office to type it five or ten times/day. If “H-bomb” was used that frequently, I’m guessing it wouldn’t take long for it to become “hbomb.” However, it would still be incorrect – there is no sufficient argument for spelling it any way other than “H-bomb” (or “e-mail”). Common use is not a good enough reason, and sheer reach does not make the documentation department of a giant corporation into a grammar authority.

    In my formal work, which includes documentation and application screens, it goes without saying that “e-mail” is used. If a developer puts “email” on a form, I log it as a bug like I would any other typo (although I lump a bunch of typo fixes together to make it worth the time – I’m not quite that crazy). In informal e-mails, I have only recently gotten past my mental block and started using “email,” purely as shorthand, which is all it will ever be to any professional writer worth hiring. In fact, that’s a good test of a new writer – if a person doesn’t hyphenate it, it’s because they don’t fully grasp WHY it was hyphenated in the first place, and/or they’re just lazy and would prefer to see the language change than hit one extra key.

    Informal: email
    Formal: e-mail

    There’s room in this world for both.

  45. Michael W. Says:

    I’m not an expert by any means, but some things to think about:

    First, to those who argue that the hyphenated form looks “old-fashioned,” I would note that the expanded form of the “United States of America” looks rather quaint as well. Rarely do we hear anyone say that they “live in the United States of America.” Nearly always, they would say that they live in the the “USA,” “US,” “United States,” or “States.” However, if you were typing a formal document, would you not type the full name of the nation? There are many states in the world, and I daresay that many of them are united. Without the distinction, the intent is still apparent, but without a second thought we would type out the full name of the “United States of America.”

    My point is, there are such things in the English language as “informal” terms. They do not need to be outlawed, and as I attempted to point out, are often useful. But to make clear that an e-mail is in fact an electronic piece of mail, I feel the punctuation should be kept in formal circumstances.

    Furthermore, the punctuation is used to distinguish the pronunciation. Someone above pointed out that there are thousands of exceptions to the phonetic rules of English. This may or may not be true, but in most if not all such words the distinction was the fault of the etymology. Though it is impossible to deem any word a “made-up” word, as all words were at some point made up, I would point out that “e-mail” does not come from some ancient language with its own set of phonetics; it comes from modern English, and why do we need more exceptions when the answer is as simple as another keystroke or straight line drawn by a pen?

    I found the comment that mentioned the “convenience” unsettling at the very least; do we live in a society so lazy that we change entire languages to accommodate those who prefer less keystrokes on a QWERTY keyboard, which will most likely be outdated in the future, probably sooner or later by a complete lack of keyboard (i.e. speech recognition or even thought recognition?)

    “Émail” is actually enamel in at least a few other languages, and if I’m not mistaken was actually brought into English (from French) in the late nineteenth century as a type of pottery, though I can find no proof at the moment–Searching for examples is nearly impossible, due to the heavy use of the more recent type of email.

    A random thought, for those experts who wonder around the web, because I am not an English guru: I’ve also considered that we do not hyphenate “electronic mail,” “electronically mailed,” or any other way to arrange those words that I can think of, besides in uncommon cases such as “Someone received the electronically-mailed file.” So, for those who argue that e-mail is preferable due to precedent, why is “e-mail” not “e’mail?” Or perhaps this alone is enough to support “email,” because it is common in American English to drop hyphens from simple compound words, though that the “e” is an abbreviated form of “electronic” also negates this.

    My two cents.

    On second thought, more like my dollar and some spare change–I talk a lot.

  46. matthew Says:

    We use the dash in e-mail because the E is short for electronic. Technology development has established many E-words, such as e-commerce, e-business, and e-learning. Nobody writes ecommerce, ebusiness, or elearning, because it makes no sense. Why should e-mail be treated as an exception to the practice?

  47. ?????? Says:

    “Email” is associated with an action in my mind, while “e-mail” is a description. I.e. I emailed him yesterday; in my e-mail I said…

  48. Miles Says:

    The idea of removing the hyphen from e-mail is indefensible. There is no legitimate reason for doing so. The argument that “it must be OK, because I see it in print and online a lot” is juvenile and sub-literate. (I see “orientated” a lot, too. So that’s a word now?) No other initial-based term has ever transformed into a single word — I’ll add U-boat to the other examples already offered. The hyphen aids pronunciation and understanding, and also indicates that the E stands for something. It’s absolutely stunning that anyone who purports to be capable with the written English language would put forth the idea of removing the hyphen.

  49. Brook Says:

    I vote for email.

    Those that are in favor of e-mail use a lot of examples of other words (H-bomb, U-boat, X-ray, S-curve) where they initial letter is capitalized. Yet, they are not advocating for the E to be capitalized in e-mail. Isn’t this in itself evidence that the word should be discussed independent of the hyphenated group?

  50. Norynne Says:

    E-mail (or e-mail if not at the beginning of a sentence) is the shortened term for “electronic mail” or “electronic message” since at that time of introduction a distinction was required from the traditional post office mail. It began as a descriptor, therefore (like the previous post) was separated by the hyphen and used like U-boat or S-curve. As the years went on, the term has become so common, that there’s really no other meaning to the term e-mail/email since we all perceive it as the same thing. And, there are no other types of mail (yet) that requires us to use another preceding descriptor, therefore preserving the hyphen. Well, maybe b-mail (brain mail) but I’m sure were still several years from that. 😉 Sure there’s mobile and/or instant messages, but we call those texts or IM’s. So at this point, we really only need “email”, unless you’re a traditionalist and simply prefer to see the separation. If indeed in the future another mail term comes along, I’m sure the same debate will rear its ugly head, but until then, in my opinion, use whichever one you want to. They are both right!

  51. Edward R. Emmons Says:

    I have read all 50 posts above. I have always used “e-mail” and will continue to do so for all of the reasons put forward, especially, #12, #24, and #28. However, I will allow for a little compromise with the other side and agree with #50: “They are both right.”

  52. Reed Kimble Says:

    All of the examples for “e-mail” are the same… T-Shirt, X-Ray, etc. but what about “soft-ware” or “non-zero”?

    Also keep in mind the “e” is for electronic and one can go far enough back to find “electronic-mail” written out entirely. So this “it is different because it is one letter” argument is silly… it is an abbreviation of an abbreviation… Heck, “T-Shirt” is also “Tee Shirt” and the “t” indicates the shape of the item, not an abbreviation for “tee”. In “X-Ray”, the “x” isn’t an abbreviation for anything either (other than generically as “unknown”) – it is simply referring to a specific band of the electromagnetic spectrum whose source was unknown when discovered and therefore labeled “X”.

    As for the other examples of “e” words, it should be noted that casing is often used as in eCommerce (search the two spellings online and see what comes up), rather than the hyphen. The current trend would indicate a preference to the casing as well. We see the same happening with “i” words now too, and it will only continue.

    Another good point is nobody uses a “hyphen” anyway – they are all dashes because that is what most keyboards produce easily – most character sets have an actual hyphen but getting to it requires an ALT-Key or dropdown selection of some sort and no one bothers with the double dash “–” to make a hyphen. So why cry about it when it’s very hard to type a hyphen anyway?

  53. Doug Says:

    If you think it makes sense to spell e-mail without a space or a hyphen (like this: email), do you also write Aframe to describe a house with a steeply pitched roof? Bmovie for a low-budget commercial movie? Cclamp for something you use to hold two pieces of wood together? Did the soldiers in WWII eat Crations? Did WWII end after the abomb was dropped on Japan? Do you wear a tshirt? Do you think graphs have an xaxis and a yaxis? If you’re a scholar, does your hindex keep you awake at night? Is an oring a kind of gasket? Were Kcars made by Chrysler?

  54. Sam Lupowitz Says:

    I’m into details like proper spelling, spacing and punctuation, etc., and I always use “e-mail”.

    I find that people who don’t care about such things use “email”.

  55. Anonymous Says:

    I’m 22 years old…so I can school the “old timers” here (the only people I see using “e-mail” are old people)

    Email is perfectly acceptable and in more wide usage than e-mail. Just like you can use wifi instead of wi-fi (personally I pronounce it whiff-ee and not why-fhy because my way rolls off the tongue easier).

    Flash drives are also called flash drives. Not thumb drives, not thumb sticks…. flash drives. Flash drive won the “term” war a long time ago.

  56. John Says:

    I must confess that I must be one of the “old-timers” referred to above. I do challenge you, however, to find any knowledgeable person who pronounces “Wi-Fi” as “whiff-ee.” I also prefer to use the term “e-mail,” mostly for all the reasons stated above. It is a contraction, not a word by itself. On other contractions, we use an apostrophe, so what’s wrong with a hyphen? Or are you OK with saying “wouldnt,” “cant,” etc. We already have enough people who can’t use it’s and its correctly.

    Note to Lewis: Back on note 12, you used the Latin abbreviation “q.v.” This is used to direct a reader to another section of a publication such as an encyclopedia. I think what you meant was “e.g,” which stands for “Exempli Gratia,” or, “for example.” Check out any number of web sites for this.

  57. Damien Says:

    I am no master of the English language, however I have been teaching English and, translating into English for a couple of years now, and I have to mention how important it is to express what is wanted to be conveyed more than any pointless rules. I definitely think email is incorrect. This is more than anything because of the pronounciation. the E in Email is pronounced like a letter E, where as in most words starting with a letter E, they have a more of an uh sound. In addition to that, keeping the hyphen reminds us of the original meaning of the letter E in this word.

  58. Anonymous Says:

    @ John,

    I’m actually a computer expert (and electrical engineer grad) and I do really pronounce it whiff-ee not why-fhy. I’m really kinda unique about how I pronounce it though….most people say why-fhy. Whiff-ee just sounds better and flows easier … Why-Fhy sounds like you having a stroke 🙂

  59. Tim Heller Says:

    It’s possible the use of “e-mail” will remain in formal use and never go away, e.g. on a résumé. But I guess the concept and use of email has gone way beyond the literal description of “electronic mail” back in the day. E.g. “I sent the pic via email.”, not “I sent the picture via e-mail instead of regular mail.” Email doesn’t need to be compared anymore. It’s its own thing.

  60. Jo Dryer Says:

    I’m trying to figure out if there should be a distinction in spelling between verb and noun. I lean towards removing the hyphen when it’s a verb.

    Sam emailed it on Friday.
    It should be in your e-mail in a couple days.

    Does it make sense to spell it differently for the two forms? Some of the other terms described above that take a hyphen like x-ray and h-bomb, etc. are not frequently used as verbs, so perhaps there’s no precedence for this.

  61. James Says:

    Airmail. Email. Enough said.

  62. Paul Says:

    Re comment #55 about Flash Drive. The ‘flash’ is a reference to the type of memory used for the device. See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_memory

  63. Mehul Solanki Says:

    I think it should be “e-mail” spell is correct as per topic and all blogs.

  64. Eric S. Says:

    OK, let’s eliminate both and go to some formal English rules.

    Contractions require apostrophes to replace the removed letters, thus electronic mail becomes e’mail. 🙂

    And if I heard someone pronouncing wi-fi as “whiff-ee”, I’d slap ’em upside the head an’ call him a snot-nosed, wet-behind-the-ears, know-nothin’ punk kid. 🙂

  65. Bob Halstead Says:

    I suspect it’s true that eventually “email” will win, but sometimes it’s appropriate to fight on anyhow. Here’s my objection:

    “e” (and its partner “ex”) as a prefix already has a standard use from Latin (our favorite prefix source). It means “from” or “out of” and is familiar from “e pluribus unum”: out of many one. It shows up in many English words like elicit, educate, emote, exaggerate, eviscerate, elect . . .

    “e” in “e-mail” is not a prefix. It’s an abbreviation for another word that one combines with “mail” to form a compound noun or verb. That’s how the other new uses of “e” also work: e-busines, e-commerce, etc.

    Consider the other prefixes: pre, post, in, un, re, bi, semi, etc. They aren’t abbreviations for anything else.

    My hope is that “e-mail” will become just “mail”, and we’ll create a retronym for traditional mail. But, please, not “snail mail” (however spelled).

  66. Bob Halstead Says:

    Third-to-last paragraph, third line: obviously, I misspelled “e-business”.

  67. Taylor Says:

    I’m glad to see there are those who are still willing to defend “e-mail”. Unfortunately, the barbarians are at the gates: sloth, convenience (it’s so much trouble to type a hyphen!), and unthinking conformity will no doubt carry the day. But at least we defenders of rationality and civilized values will go down fighting.

  68. Peggy Cartwright Says:

    Oh, good god, so this discussion HAS been going on forever. I suppose I am one of the barbarians at the gate, albeit a rather old one (ye gods, I almost go back to to-day, in age at least). Here however is my feeling on the point:

    Hyphen Hell

    I’m a writer and I can’t be bothered,
    I make it email in all of my work
    If you think I’m gonna hit the pinkie
    When I write my email, then you’re a jerk

    Life is tough enough for us writers
    I know, you think it’s just a sail
    And one little hyphen ain’t so hard
    When you happen to mention some email

    Who cares if you’re hip or copecetic
    I’ve got some work has to get out
    Arguing now is just pathetic
    It’s email, hyphens hell is what I shout.

    Oh, and btw (an expression borrowed from a granddaughter), I am an Apple Mac person, having had nothing but Macs since my first, the 128K. P.C. (note my initials)

  69. Philip Martin Says:

    Just e-yed this post today. Sometime this year, I began using “e” as a verb and as a noun. Verb: “I’ll e you tomorrow morning.” Noun: my email address on my biz card and Website now read “e: xxx@yyy.net” with an italicized “e” [bien sur]!

    –Phil

    e me Daddy,
    Ate to the barr!

  70. Peter Says:

    Going back to the article at the beginning of this discussion, I say, “Never mind ‘e-mail’ or ’email’, where did Rob, and millions of others, ever get the idea that the phrase ‘across the world’ is correct?” The concept of “across the world” is impossible, because the world is round (okay, it’s an oblate spheroid, but you get my point). When things are round (or three dimensional), we can only go “around” them (the world, the block, the corner, etc.). When things are relatively flat, like streets, towns, and even our Milky Way Galaxy … well … THEN we can go “across” them! Let this be known acr… (just kidding) around the world!!

  71. LJ Says:

    @Gary: I was enjoying your post until I read, “This is both customary and logical, but as our society becomes more electronically connected, people seem to be loosing the ability to recognize the distinction between situations where they need to think, compose, edit, and THEN orate versus …”
    Upon what or whom are these people loosing this ability? Is it dangerous? Do I need to watch out for someone about to loose this ability on me? Or perhaps you meant to say “losing the ability…”? I just absolutely don’t understand why so many people these days don’t know the difference between lose and loose. They are NOT interchangeable and, to the point of many on the e-mail versus email discussion, why would you want to type an extra letter anyway? Please everyone, just lose the extra ‘o’ and use the correct word.

  72. Jayce Cameron Says:

    It’s of my opinion that anything becoming electronic be affixed with the prefix of “e” lowercase and unhyphenated followed by the first letter of the item it is appending, being a capital.
    So an “electronic invitation” would be “eInvite”.
    Or “electronic mail” would be “eMail”.
    This method clearly identifies that it is an electronic version of an otherwise regular item/process while saving on keystrokes and still leaving it visually appealing.

  73. Jessica Brown Says:

    @ Jayce Cameron, above – I love your solution to this problem!

    That is a more visually appealing solution, and it would make it consistent across the board. I don’t know, grammatically, though, if we “can” do that in English. Are we “allowed” to capitalize the first letter after an e in that way, or would we have to alter the rules of the language first somehow? (I know that German has a rule that some nouns are capitalized like that.)

  74. Dean Rusk Says:

    I stood up for the hyphenated version in our editorial word list/style guide committee several years ago — alone. The final consensus was that “email” would eventually trend as the predominant usage — which even I could not argue — and so it was decided (5 to 1) to help this along some. The argument is truly trivial.

    I just wish all this intelligent commentary would chime in on filibuster reform or national health care — something their reasonable input might actually sway our representatives with!

  75. George Says:

    Lucky Germans in this case. First rule there, nouns are captialized. So that makes it E-Mail. But if you ommit the dash the word has a different meaning. Yes, in German, Email is already taken. And it was long time before computers arrived. The word “Email” or “Emaille” stands for a glassy coating that is known as “enamel” in English.

  76. Jeff Says:

    While I preferred e-mail, the issue was sort of settled back in 2011, when the AP Stylebook announced that email is now the proper spelling. You can read more at: http://mashable.com/2011/03/18/ap-stylebook-email/

  77. Rick Robinson Says:

    I came upon this page because my tech savvy 4 year old niece is learning to read. Like many new readers, she sounds out new words in an effort to pronounce them using the basics of phonetics. Of course she said ‘ehmail’ instead of ‘eemail’ when she encountered this word.
    I propose we stick with e-mail, because at the basic level of a new reader, they will know how to pronounce it correctly.

    -Rick

  78. Charles Winter Says:

    Also internationally the discussion continues… However, in many languages email refers to “enamel” (French: émail = couche de protection vitreuse utilisée en céramique; Dutch: email); I realize this should not be a reason to enforce “e-mail” in English, but still…

  79. Pat Adler Says:

    As an editor and copy editor, I usually go by the Chicago Manual of Style. When an author questioned me, I did a little digging and came up with this explanation which takes the function of the word into account. My inner grammarian is pleased.
    The Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1888-1928) gives the preferred form as one word email for the noun form, but e-mail for the verb form.

  80. Ron Says:

    How about using e-mail when it’s being used as a noun or adjective and email when it’s used as a verb?

  81. Diane Says:

    I didn’t know that so many people cared about this issue! My sister and I disagree about it, she being younger and preferring email. It just doesn’t look right to me. I will continue to use e-mail, whether as a noun or a verb. After seeing all of the justification for it, I can now use it unapologetically! And the keyboard key that produces “-” does type a hyphen–not a dash (like the dash I just used). I realize that people usually call it a dash; but, as a former typewriting teacher, I still recognize it as a hyphen.

  82. Diane Says:

    I can’t believe it–my dashes are being turned back into hyphens. I guess I’m going to lose this battle. A proper dash is made of two hyphens. This distinguishes it from a hyphen! A dash is longer than a hyphen!

  83. Gotmoxy Says:

    Hey #72, if you want to use “eInvite” and “eMail,” then how do you capitalize it for titles and as the first word in a sentence?

    We are actually having this discussion at work regarding “ecommerce.” Merriam-Webster shows “e-commerce,” which is, of course, capitalized ad “E-commerce.”

    Wiktionary is using “E-Commerce” for titles, “E-commerce” for the first word in a sentence and “e-commerce” in text. That’s 3 different forms!

    Inquiring minds want to know…

  84. Warner Athey Says:

    I use Yahoo so I am going to have to go with email. If somebody wants to use something else or call it something else I have no argument with him. Let’s check the ultimate authority on the english language. How does the Queen spell it? Check her emails or is it e-mails. If would be funny if just for a joke she changed it each time.

  85. Dani Says:

    This debate has been raging so long some posts are outdated. The Dutch guy a few years ago talked about how it’s used in the Netherlands.

    I’ve lived in the Netherlands for nearly 10 years and the trend here is to drop the e altogether.

    Ik stuur je een mail (noun)
    Ik zal je mailen (verb)

    I live in hope that English will go this way one day. It’s not on a normal keyboard that the hyphen takes so long, it’s on an iPad, where you have to switch to an underlying keyboard to find it.

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