Is it email, e-mail, or eMail?

September 14, 2008

With both web site and e-mail I’ve gone down the closure and lower case route—email and website. I researched some print and online style guides and found the following.

The Associated Press Style Guide (2000) is clear about using Web site and e-mail. AP also uses Web page but webcast and webmaster.

The Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications (3rd ed.) says Web (single word, capitalized) except for words such as webzine, webcast, and webmaster and has this to say about e-words:

In general, avoid forming new words with ‘e-‘ (for electronic) unless you know your audience will understand. Some words that may be appropriate in certain circumstances are ‘e-commerce’ and ‘e-money’. E-mail and e-form are acceptable. Always hyphenate for clarity.

Use lowercase for e-words in body text and use initial capitals in headings, titles, and the beginning of sentences. The word following the hyphen is capitalized in headings, with title-style capitalization.

Under e-mail they state:

Always hyphenate. Do not use as a verb; use send instead… Do not use e-mail as a synonym for message

Sun’s A Style Guide for the Computer Industry (1996) uses email, as does The Guardian Style Guide (The Guardian also uses e-commerce, web, and website).

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS; 14th ed.) has a general principle at 6.38:

For some years now, the trend in spelling compound words has been away from the use of hyphens. … a tendency to spell compounds as solids as soon as acceptance warrants their being considered permanent compounds, and otherwise to spell them open. This is a trend, not a rule, but it is sometimes helpful, when deciding how to spell [a] new combination, to remember [this] trend.

The Australian Style Manual (6th ed) has a bet each way! Within the body of the book, they use email and web site, yet when talking about how to deal with e- words, they state:

For the growing set of words prefixed with ‘e’ (for ‘electronic’), hyphenation is recommended: e-book, e-business… The ‘e’ prefix is so small that such words would be in danger of being misread unless the hyphen is there.

Yet on the same page (p.90) they state that both the Macquarie and Australian Oxford dictionaries use ’email’ and,

With the growing number of similar words that use a hyphen, it is possible that ‘e-mail’ will become the preferred term.

On web sites they are at least consistent and refer to them as two separate words, in lower case:

… a growing tendency to use lower case for these words. …lower case appears to be the predominant usage for ‘web site’, which is also often seen as one word.

The Economist Style Guide says to hyphenate e- words and make them lower case. Their web words are also lower case, and they use website.

So, no-one can agree! If you have a house style guide or use a standard one, follow their guidelines. If not, just be absolutely consistent in your usage within a document.

Update (29 April 2010): Hot off the presses in the past few days is news that both the AP Stylebook and the latest yet-to-be-made-public version of the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications (MSTP) will both have website as the preferred term (all lower case, closed, no caps). MSTP is also changing to email (no hyphen), though other ‘e’ words retain the hyphen; and lower case web. Only website and webpage will be single words; all other two-word web words remain as two words. Web will only be capitalized in specific UI element names, feature names (e.g. Web Slice) and in the phrase World Wide Web.

This article was first published in the June 2002 CyberText Newsletter; links last checked January 2008]

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