Compound words

April 27, 2009

Anne, a work colleague, asked:

Do you use ‘lifecycle’, ‘life-cycle’, or ‘life cycle’?

The Collins Dictionary has it as ‘life cycle’ however I’m seeing it written as ‘lifecycle’ more and more elsewhere.

My response:

My preference (without looking it up) would be ‘lifecycle’, but The Macquarie Dictionary 3rd edition (our corporate authority) says ‘life cycle’. So I guess it has to be ‘life cycle’.

I hate these ‘in transit’ words — they start as two words, then hyphenate, then close up becoming a compound word. Sometimes the closure is really quick (e.g. database); other times it takes decades, and people argue over what’s right or wrong during the entire time!

The worst are the prefix words, like sub, multi, non, bi, semi, etc. There is SO much variation in those, it’s not funny. Some are closed, some remain hyphenated, and still others remain separate…

Take ‘sea’ for example. I’ve been working with a lot of ‘sea’ words lately, but there’s no apparent reason for some being compound words and others being separate — sea floor v. seabed, sea dragon v. seahorse, etc.

See also:


  1. I had a similar thing recently editing a document that contained all three variations. I decided to go with “lifecycle” on the grounds that:

    a) It seems like its own particular entity (one noun), rather than a type of cycle (i.e. a noun with an adjective). In that respect, it seems different to: crop cycle, sun cycle or song cycle.

    b) I’d speak it like it was one word. I wouldn’t say “life” followed by “cycle”.

    But I agree, I think it’s one of those bits of language that are in transit.

  2. […] Lifecycle (life cycle or life-cycle) […]

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