LawProse Lesson #154: Compound words: Is it “healthcare,” “health-care,” or “health care”?

LawProse Lesson #154: Compound words: Is it “healthcare,” “health-care,” or “health care”?

Compound words: Is it healthcare, health-care, or health care? The better practice is to write it as a solid, unhyphenated word: healthcare. You’ll save yourself grief and, to the extent your writing endures, you’ll look better in the long run. Although the two-word form health care is more common today, the trend is clearly toward making it a solid word. Compound words typically undergo a predictable progression — and have long done so. Take, for example, the word today. It started as two words {to day}, moved to a hyphenated form {to-day}, and then became a single word {today}. There are countless similar examples. Database, fundraiser, and lawnmower all evolved the same way. In general, compound nouns composed of two one-syllable words become solid {caselaw, classmate, workday}. Many other factors may affect whether a compound is solid, hyphenated, or two words. These include the pronunciation, the specific prefix or suffix used, the combination of the parts of speech, and the length and number of syllables. The Chicago Manual of Style and The Gregg Reference Manual discuss these matters in great detail. Now back to healthcare and its benefits. The one-word version for adjective and noun obviates the difficulty that many people have with hyphens. Healthcare-related issues is much better than health-care-related issues. And if the four-syllable Obamacare is solid, the solidified healthcare is a cinch. But this is a subject that even the most reputable sources will disagree about. The Oxford English Dictionary and The Associated Press Stylebook list the noun as two words (with the expectation, presumably, that the adjective is hyphenated). The current edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary also lists the noun as two words but advises hyphenating the adjective. The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage lists it as two words and (surprisingly) suggests that it is not hyphenated even when used as an adjective in health care plan. Presumably, The New York Times would likewise refer to health care plan issues. In coming years, I hope your healthcare will be sound — and solid. May I propose a toast? To your healthcare! For further reading, see: The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style §§ 7.16-7.26, at 137-41 (3d ed. 2013). Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 251, 404 (3d ed. 2009). The Chicago Manual of Style §§ 7.77-7.85, at 372-84 (16th ed. 2010). William A. Sabin, The Gregg Reference Manual §§ 801-10, at 215-23 (10th ed. 2005).

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