It’s a word that you probably come across dozens (if not hundreds) of times a day, and yet when you have to spell it out yourself, there’s a nagging doubt in your mind: is is spelled e-mail or email?
As it turns out, both are acceptable ways to write what started as “electronic mail”—you know, that thing you should definitely stop checking on vacation.
To hyphenate it or not is simply a matter of which style guide you use (or if that’s not relevant, personal preference).
The Case for E-mail
The logic behind the hyphenated version, e-mail, is that e-mail is really the combination of two words, electronic and mail.
Traditionally, compound nouns that combine a single letter with another word are hyphenated.
In addition, e-mail was the original spelling when this messaging system was invented, which might be why the more traditional style guides and publications prefer the hyphenated version.
However, email is now the more common spelling and has become the customary norm.
Style Guides and Dictionaries That Prefer E-mail
- The MLA (Modern Language Association) Handbook
- APA Style (American Psychological Association)
The Case for Email
In recent years, more and more publications have opted to drop the hyphen as other closed compounds (such as coworker, midterm, midpoint, etc.) have become more widely accepted.
The widespread use of email in publications such as The New Yorker, The Huffington Post, and The Guardian—along with the general public’s preference of this closed compound—could be used to argue that email has become the norm, whether traditional style guides like it or not.
Style Guides and Dictionaries That Prefer Email
Email or Emails? Forming the Plural
Here’s a little-known fact: According to Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications, “email” (or e-mail?) was not intended to be used as a synonym for “message.”
The manual states that when referring to individual message, email message or email messages should be used. (For example, you should say, “I received 15 email messages today,” not, “I received 15 emails.”
But, of course, you’ve probably realized that no one abides by that rule. Thus, when it comes to remembering if email should be used as a plural or singular noun, just focus on these rules:
- Use email to refer to a single email message, or to refer to the concept of electronic mail itself.
Example: I received an email from my doctor.
Example: Email was invented in 1972 by Ray Tomlinson.
- Use emails to refer to more than one email message.
Example: I received 20 work emails over the holiday weekend.
Should You Hyphenate Email?
If you work for a publication or agency that prefers a certain style guide, you should base your spelling of email on that guide’s rules.
However, if you don’t need to follow a particular style, pick the spelling that you prefer and stick with it. Consistency across an author’s writing—especially in publications—is what matters most.
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