One Word or Two? Or Is It Hyphenated?


Every Wednesday, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 features handy tips to enhance all of our writing, from daily emails to articles to books. After all, everyone needs to write, right?

I’m back, grammar lovers!

I don’t know if you remember or not, but I took the summer off to spend more time with my sons before they left for college and grad school. There were travel plans to help coordinate, moving lists to prepare, graduation parties to attend and one to throw, and moments to be captured in our memories before life would change forever for the four of us.

Before each of them left—the younger to Texas and the eldest to Scotland—my husband and I asked what they wanted to do for their last nights at home. It touched my heart that they didn’t want to go out for big celebratory dinners, but instead wanted a regular night with the family and some take out.

I guess our “every day” was special enough and for that I am truly grateful.

The tears have been shed, the bedrooms are empty, and it’s time to get to our new normal. We still text each other almost every day, which is not my mandate (I never wanted to be that kind of mother), but rather a genuine want to communicate, which couldn’t make me happier. It’s so much nicer texting than when I was in college and having to rely on snail mail and telephone calls. I’m so old, we didn’t even have email back then!

Are you ready to get to work?

Early in the summer, I acquired a new freelance editing client. After writing so much, it’s nice to focus on editing for awhile and to achieve a good balance between the two. Now that I’m editing more, I’ve come across several words and phrases I’ve needed to look up, so let’s start with those words that give us pause and perpetually bring up the question of one word or two and to hyphenate or not.

Burn out or burnout?

burnout (noun)

Burnout, when used as a noun, means “the stopping of an operation of a jet or rocket engine,” according to, as well as “the exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation.” It also can be used to describe “a person showing the effects of drug abuse.”

burn out (verb)

Burn out is the verb that means “to drive out or destroy the property of by fire,” or “to cause to fail, wear out, or become exhausted especially from overwork or overuse,” states Merriam-Webster.

Kickoff or kick off?

kickoff (noun)

I was writing copy for a football fundraiser and honestly couldn’t remember if kickoff was one word or two. Turns out, it’s one, according to Merriam-Webster when talking about the noun used for “the kick that puts the ball in play in a football or soccer game or the start of something, like a campaign kickoff.”

kick off (verb)

As a verb, kick off should be used “to start or resume play by a placekick,” Merriam-Webster states. “Or to begin proceedings, like to kick off the season.”

Microgrant or micro-grant?

When looking up if it should be microgrant (think Kiva) or micro-grant, neither the AP Stylebook nor Merriam Webster had any information. However, AP does mention the word microsite, which it stated should be one word.

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) has a section on compounds formed with specific terms, and, although microgrant isn’t specifically named, I think it is safe to go by their general rule of “compounds formed with prefixes are normally closed, whether they are nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs.” CMS goes on to state that a hyphen should appear “before a capitalized word or numeral…(and) before a compound term…such as pre-Vietnam War.” It also suggests using a hyphen to separate two vowels.

Since none of those special circumstances apply here, I think it’s safe to use microgrant as one word for this noun.

Ongoing or on-going?

Merriam Webster states this word for “being actually in process” or “continuing” should be one word, no hyphen.

Online or on-line?

Both AP and Merriam Webster agree online is one word, no hyphen, whether it is an adjective or an adverb.

Please join me next week when I’ll answer a question or two I received over my break.

EFG Digest

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These books are on my desk at all times. Maybe they'll help you as well.

The Associated Press Stylebook, 2017 edition

The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition
Strunk and White's The Elements of Style


A professional writer/editor for almost 30 years, Karen Wojcik Berner's wide and varied experience includes such topics as grammar, blog content, book reviews, corporate communications, the arts, paint and coatings, real estate, the fire service, writing and literature, research, and publishing. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women's Fiction Writers, Naperville magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of the Bibliophiles series, contemporary fiction with a sprinkling of the classics, and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. For more information on Karen, please visit


David said…
Great article. A couple of additional examples that I also run into regularly in my line of work is "set up" and "setup." Any thoughts on those?
Thanks for your question, David.

According to Merriam-Webster, setup is a noun is generally used for "the assembly and arrangement of tools and apparatus required" to perform something." It also can be a project, plan, or something done in deceit to frame someone.

Set up is the verb for "raise or put something in a high position," to cause or create, or to make "carefully worked out plans," according to Merriam-Webster.

It's safe to simplify it down to set up is the verb and setup is the noun.

Thanks for reading!
This is why I live on Merriam-Webster. It's always open on my laptop. ;)
Absolutely, Kelly! We can't remember everything.

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