Select Page

Compounds Ending with a Preposition or Adverb: Open, Hyphenated, or Solid?

It seems as if I’m always rifling through my reference books to check whether a compound is open, hyphenated, or solid in a particular style. Movie goer, movie-goer, or moviegoer? There is no consistency, no logic apparent to the naked mind . . . or is there?

Nope. Not much. Sorry for getting your hopes up. Where a compound term lands in its journey toward becoming one word is arbitrary with a capital F-U.

Where a compound term lands in its journey toward becoming one word is arbitrary with a capital F-U.

In this post, I will discuss compound terms ending with a preposition or adverb (e.g., -in/-out, -up/-down, -on/-off, -over) and, of course, which version The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style prefer. If you love lists, I’m sharing one compiled in a so-far-successful bid to avoid organ herniation from hoisting those heavy books. In short, I will run down my run-down rundown. (Note to self: Raise standard for items on my “Things to Say” bucket list.)

Looking for Patterns

First, I analyzed my list of compound nouns and compound adjectives (aka phrasal adjectives and compound modifiers) for logical patterns. I pondered questions such as, if the first element ends in a vowel and the second element begins with a vowel, are they always joined by a hyphen to keep the vowels separate and the compound readable? Then, I had a gluten-free cookie and watched some TV. Really, there is no logic. Drive-in and trade-off . . . but lineup and takeover. See?

Chalk it up to popular whim. According to CMOS 7.79, “With frequent use, open or hyphenated compounds tend to become closed (‘on line’ to ‘on-line’ to ‘online’). Chicago’s general adherence to Webster’s does not preclude occasional exceptions when the closed spellings have become widely preferred by writers (e.g., ‘website’) and pronunciation and readability are not at stake.”

According to the AP stylebook (“hyphen entry), “Use of the hyphen is far from standardized. It is optional in most cases, a matter of taste, judgment and style sense.”

Really, there is no logic. Drive-in and trade-off . . . but lineup and takeover. See?

And then they both go on and on about how to wield a hyphen. Let me break it down for you . . .

Reference Preference

Look words up in the following order. (Online dictionaries are listed at the end of the post.)


  1. AP Stylebook Online.
  2. The Associated Press Stylebook (“dictionaries” entry).
  3. Webster’s New World College Dictionary: Use the first spelling if more than one spelling is listed in the same entry. Use the spelling in the entry with a full definition if there is more than one entry. (See “dictionaries” entry.)
  4. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (“dictionaries” entry).
  5. Use hyphens to avoid confusion or to join words to form a single idea. Avoid duplicated vowels and tripled consonants. (See “hyphen” entry.)

Special notes:

  • Precede -in with a hyphen (see “-in” entry). Exception: login.
  • Hyphenate compounds ending in -down, -off, -out, -over, and -up if not found in the AP stylebook or Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Exception: charge off.

Really special note:

  • These exceptions are not acknowledged by AP, but you do the math.


  1. The Chicago Manual of Style (7.77–85).
  2. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary: Use the first spelling listed, even for equal variants (7.1).
  3. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (7.1).
  4. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, or other standard dictionary (7.1).
  5. If an example or analogy cannot be found in the above, hyphenate sparingly and only to enhance readability (7.85).

Special notes:

  • The Chicago Manual of Style is not set up like The Associated Press Stylebook, meaning it doesn’t contain, as AP puts it in its table of contents, “an A to Z listing of guides to capitalization, abbreviation, spelling, numerals and usage.” But you knew that.
  • The Chicago Manual of Style Online‘s forum and Chicago Style Q&A may use spellings which differ from those on my chart, but their authority does not override the sources prescribed in CMOS.

Often, you can identify a compound noun (ending with a preposition or adverb) from its non-compound form . . . by the way the first element is stressed.

Extra Credit: Stress Patterns in Pronunciation

Often, you can identify a compound noun (ending with a preposition or adverb) from its non-compound form (usually verb but not always) by the way the first element is stressed. You can hear the equal stress on the words make up in “Let’s kiss and make up.” Compare this to the heavier stress on make when you say “Let’s kiss and share makeup.”

More examples of stress on the first part of a compound noun (also examples of a stressful weekend): meltdown, blackout, hangover. Exception: time-out (equal stress on both elements).

Examples of equal stress on both elements of a phrasal adjective: far-off, washed-up, worn-out. Exception: wake-up (stress on first element).

I try to stick to style and avoid talking straight-up grammar, because there are so many blogs out there for that—plus I might make stuff up, like “Nounify the verbular gerundity”—but, yes, use two words when any of these play the part of a phrase consisting of a verb, noun, adjective, or participle plus a preposition or adverb. Crap, I just lost 95 percent of my readers.

  • I had a meltdown when I watched the ice cream melt down my arm.
  • I black out when there is a blackout.
  • I felt a black cloud hang over me while I had a hangover.
  • I took some time out for a timeout.

Using This Compounds List

    • Deviations by the AP stylebook from its official dictionary, Webster’s New World College Dictionary, have been noted in the “Notes and Exceptions” column.
    • The words in the “AP Style” column can be found in the AP stylebook under those word entries in the “Stylebook” section unless indicated otherwise in the “Notes and Exceptions” column.
    • It’s interesting to note that both Chicago and AP use Webster’s Third New International Dictionary as a secondary source, after their dictionaries of choice. It retails for $129, but it’s $75 on Amazon. Knock yourself out.

Note: Most of the compound terms are nouns and adjectives; exceptions have been indicated.


AP Style Chicago Style Notes and Exceptions
buyout • AP book: see “leveraged buyout”
carry-over carryover
change-up changeup
charge off charge-off • Note: two words
• AP dictionary: no entry
check-in • AP dictionary: no entry
cover-up • AP dictionary: coverup
crackup crack-up
far-off (adj.)
hands-off (adj.)
head-on (adj., adv.)
hideout • AP online: hideout
• AP book: hide-out
(see “-out”)
• AP dictionary: hide-out
login log-in • Note: Closed compound contradicts AP’s hyphenated compound style for all -in constructions (see “-in”).
• AP dictionary: no entry
logoff • AP dictionary: no entry
• Chicago dictionary: no entry
logon log-on • AP dictionary: no entry
mashup • AP book: see entry in “Social Media Guidelines” section
• AP dictionary: no entry
• Chicago dictionary: no entry
meltdown • AP book: see “nuclear terminology”
pat-down • AP dictionary: no entry
• Chicago dictionary: no entry
playoff play-off
pullup pull-up • AP dictionary: pull-up
pushup push-up • AP dictionary: push-up
rundown rundown (n.),

run-down (adj.)

• AP dictionary: rundown (n.), run-down (adj.)
shoutout shout-out • Note: only listed on AP Stylebook Online
• AP dictionary: no entry
showoff show-off
shut-off shutoff
sign-up • AP dictionary: no entry
situp sit-up • AP dictionary: sit-up
spinoff spin-off
startup start-up • AP dictionary: start-up
takeout takeout (n.),

take-out (adj.)

takeup take-up
thumbs-down • AP dictionary: no entry
thumbs-up • AP dictionary: no entry
timeout time-out • Note: AP says that this is an exception to the dictionary, but they match.
tipoff tip-off • AP dictionary: tipoff for basketball term meaning “jump ball”; otherwise,tip-off
tuneup tune-up
wake-up (adj.)
washed-up (adj.)
worn-out (adj.)


Thanks for making it to the end! If you can find a way to turn this into a drinking game, then give me a heads-up.

Online Dictionaries


State Abbreviations: Use Traditional or Go Postal?

In this quick guide to state abbreviations, I will cover the differences between AP style and Chicago style and—just to prolong your state of confusion—when to use the common two-letter abbreviations created by the United States Postal Service.

If you’re writing a research paper or dashing off a blog post, you can probably ignore all the exceptions and special cases and just lean on these basic guidelines:

  • In running text, AP and Chicago both spell out state names.
  • For mailing addresses, AP and Chicago both default to the two-letter postal abbreviations.
  • For all other abbreviations, AP uses its own state abbreviations and Chicago prefers postal abbreviations (but has its own state abbreviations should that style be more appropriate for your publication).

If you’re writing a research paper or dashing off a blog post, you can probably ignore all the exceptions and special cases.

Did that little appetizer leave you wanting more? If so, I love you. And please read on for an expanded version of the brain-twisting details.

AP (online, fee required)

  • Spell out state names in running text.
  • Abbreviate state names when used in (1) datelines on stories (e.g., KOSHKONONG, Mo.), (2) photo captions, (3) lists, (4) tables, and (5) short-form listings of party affiliation (e.g., D-Calif.). Refer to AP’s “datelines” entry for use of certain well-known city names alone.
  • Use two-letter postal abbreviations only in mailing addresses which include a zip code: “To complain about AP style, write to The Associated Press, 450 W. 33rd St., New York, NY 10001.”
  • For headlines, the new rule says to avoid abbreviating states whenever possible, and the old rule—in case you can’t avoid abbreviating—said to lose the periods when using abbreviations which consist of two capital letters: NY but Ky.

Chicago (10.28)

  • Spell out state names when they stand alone in running text: “I don’t see why Kansas and Arkansas can’t make their names rhyme.”
  • Spell out state names when used with the name of a city (except for DC): “I was born in New York, New York—please stop singing.”
  • Two-letter postal abbreviations are preferred over traditional abbreviations when state names are used in bibliographies, tables, lists, blah cetera.

U.S. Postal Service

Following are the differences between AP and Chicago style in how state names are rendered in their respective “traditional” abbreviations. (Surprise! Abbreviations are not always used.)

Surprise! Abbreviations are not always used.

Aside #1: If your quality expectations are sufficiently lax, as are mine, you might enjoy Wikipedia’s version of how state abbreviations evolved and come up with your own explanation for why there are different notions of what’s traditional. Don’t bother consulting the stylebooks’ official dictionaries for the proper abbreviations: Those are more descriptive than prescriptive, and having more options will only confuse you.

Aside #2: The two-letter U.S. Postal Service code is listed parenthetically after the complete state name, but you probably figured that out.

Aside #3: Note that none of the two-word abbreviations have a space after the first period, e.g., N.Mex. and R.I.

Note to those who thought they were being smart by skipping straight to this list: Chicago prefers the two-letter postal abbreviations over traditional abbreviations; all options are listed below. Use Command-F or Ctrl-F to perform searches. That’s right, it’s ugly for a reason.


Alabama (AL)

  • Both: Ala.

Alaska (AK)

  • AP: Alaska
  • Chicago: Alaska or Alas.

Arizona (AZ)

  • Both: Ariz.

Arkansas (AR)

  • Both: Ark.

California (CA)

  • Both: Calif.

Colorado (CO)

  • Both: Colo.

Connecticut (CT)

  • Both: Conn.

Delaware (DE)

  • Both: Del.

District of Columbia (DC)

  • AP: District of Columbia
  • Chicago: D.C.

Florida (FL)

  • Both: Fla.

Georgia (GA)

  • Both: Ga.

Hawaii (HI)

  • Both: Hawaii

Idaho (ID)

  • Both: Idaho

Illinois (IL)

  • Both: Ill.

Indiana (IN)

  • Both: Ind.

Iowa (IA)

  • Both: Iowa

Kansas (KS)

  • AP: Kan.
  • Chicago: Kans.

Kentucky (KY)

  • Both: Ky.

Louisiana (LA)

  • Both: La.

Maine (ME)

  • Both: Maine

Maryland (MD)

  • Both: Md.

Massachusetts (MA)

  • Both: Mass.

Michigan (MI)

  • Both: Mich.

Minnesota (MN)

  • Both: Minn.

Mississippi (MS)

  • Both: Miss.

Missouri (MO)

  • Both: Mo.

Montana (MT)

  • Both: Mont.

Nebraska (NE)

  • AP: Neb.
  • Chicago: Neb. or Nebr.

Nevada (NV)

  • Both: Nev.

New Hampshire (NH)

  • Both: N.H.

New Jersey (NJ)

  • Both: N.J.

New Mexico (NM)

  • AP: N.M.
  • Chicago: N.Mex.

New York (NY)

  • Both: N.Y.

North Carolina (NC)

  • Both: N.C.

North Dakota (ND)

  • AP: N.D.
  • Chicago: N.Dak.

Ohio (OH)

  • Both: Ohio

Oklahoma (OK)

  • Both: Okla.

Oregon (OR)

  • AP: Ore.
  • Chicago: Ore. or Oreg.

Pennsylvania (PA)

  • Both: Pa.

Rhode Island (RI)

  • Both: R.I.

South Carolina (SC)

  • Both: S.C.

South Dakota (SD)

  • AP: S.D.
  • Chicago: S.Dak.

Tennessee (TN)

  • Both: Tenn.

Texas (TX)

  • AP: Texas
  • Chicago: Tex.

Utah (UT)

  • Both: Utah

Vermont (VT)

  • Both: Vt.

Virginia (VA)

  • Both: Va.

Washington (WA)

  • Both: Wash.

West Virginia (WV)

  • Both: W.Va.

Wisconsin (WI)

  • AP: Wis.
  • Chicago: Wis. or Wisc.

Wyoming (WY)

  • Both: Wyo.

Chicago also lists other U.S. territories, only two of which have traditional abbreviations (Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands). None of these are abbreviated in AP style, except in mailing addresses.

  • American Samoa (AS)
  • Federated States of Micronesia (FM)
  • Guam (GU)*
  • Marshall Islands (MH)*
  • Northern Mariana Islands (MP)
  • Palau (PW)
  • Puerto Rico (PR)*: P.R. or Puerto Rico
  • Virgin Islands (VI)*: V.I. or Virgin Islands

*Check entry in the Associated Press stylebook for more details.

You can bookmark this page and forget everything you just read.

Final tip: It might help to know that AP’s standard abbreviations are shorter than (or the same as) Chicago’s for all U.S. states except Alaska and Texas. Well, we might as well throw in District of Columbia. And, if feeling generous, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands. Or, in favor of keeping your brain less cluttered, you can bookmark this page and forget everything you just read.

Dictionary of Choice: Where to Look When It’s Not in the Book

Dictionary of Choice: Where to Look When It’s Not in the Book

As Fraulein Maria once said, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” Hence, let’s start with each style guide’s official dictionaries.

Let’s start with each style guide’s official dictionaries.

AP: Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fifth Ed.

Chicago: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Ed.

If it interests you to skim the bibliographies of either style guide, you will find many, many, many more reference sources to delve into at your leisure, but these are the ones to buy and cherish and lob at subordinates in a fit of typo-fueled passion. (Be sure to get the hardcover editions.)

These are the ones to buy and cherish and lob at subordinates in a fit of typo-fueled passion.

Both dictionaries are also accessible online: Webster’s New World College Dictionary can be found at, and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary can be found at Even though you forget your own home phone number, make sure you memorize these URLs!