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

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.


AP StyleChicago StyleNotes and Exceptions
buyout• AP book: see “leveraged buyout”
charge offcharge-off• Note: two words
• AP dictionary: no entry
check-in• AP dictionary: no entry
cover-up• AP dictionary: coverup
far-off (adj.)
hands-off (adj.)
head-on (adj., adv.)
hideout• AP online: hideout
• AP book: hide-out
(see “-out”)
• AP dictionary: hide-out
loginlog-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
logonlog-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
pulluppull-up• AP dictionary: pull-up
pushuppush-up• AP dictionary: push-up

rundown (n.),

run-down (adj.)

• AP dictionary: rundown (n.), run-down (adj.)
shoutoutshout-out• Note: only listed on AP Stylebook Online
• AP dictionary: no entry
sign-up• AP dictionary: no entry
situpsit-up• AP dictionary: sit-up
startupstart-up• AP dictionary: start-up

takeout (n.),

take-out (adj.)

thumbs-down• AP dictionary: no entry
thumbs-up• AP dictionary: no entry
timeouttime-out• Note: AP says that this is an exception to the dictionary, but they match.
tipofftip-off• AP dictionary: tipoff for basketball term meaning “jump ball”; otherwise,tip-off
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


Numbers: Spell Out or Use Numerals? (Number Style 101)

Numbers: Spell Out or Use Numerals? (Number Style 101)

Numbers take up their own planet in the style universe, so let’s explore it one mountain at a time. This post covers the basic rules and the basic exceptions. (They’re like siblings, I tell ya.) After we get the fundamentals out of the way, we can move on to fun subcategories, such as money and measurements!

Here’s a little number warm-up to get your brains up and running.

  • Cardinal numbers: one, 7, forty-one, one hundred nine, 852, three thousand sixty-one
  • Ordinal numbers: 1st, seventh, 41st, 109th, eight hundred fifty-second, 3,061st
  • Arabic numerals: 1, 7, 41, 109, 852, 3,061
  • Roman numerals: I, VII, XLI, CIX, DCCCLII, MMMLXI

The best way to commit these distinctions to your long-term memory is to type them out and make up a string of examples for each. (Trust me.)

The best way to commit these distinctions to your long-term memory is to type them out and make up a string of examples for each. (Trust me.)

The Associated Press Stylebook prefers the ambiguous word figure to refer to number symbols (e.g., 1, 2, 3), choosing to broadly define numeral as, among other things, “[a] word or group of words” (p. 201). I’m sticking to the definition in AP’s dictionary of choice, Webster’s New World College Dictionary—“a figure, letter, or a group of any of these, expressing a number.” The Chicago Manual of Style differentiates numerals from words as well.

Basic Number Rules (for Nontechnical Copy)

AP (p. 203)

  • Spell out whole numbers up to (and including) nine (e.g., zero, one, 10, 96, 104).
  • Spell out casual expressions: A picture is worth a thousand words, but a really good one is worth a thousand dollars.

Chicago (9.2-4, 9.8)

  • Spell out whole numbers up to (and including) one hundred (e.g., zero, one, ten, ninety-six, 104).
  • Spell out whole numbers up to (and including) one hundred when followed by hundred, thousand, hundred thousand, million, billion, and so on (e.g., eight hundred, 12,908, three hundred thousand, twenty-seven trillion).
  • Alternative rule: Spell out whole numbers up to (and including) nine, and use numerals for the rest. That’s right, you have a choice. Control yourselves or we will make you spell out phone numbers in the 17th edition.

Control yourselves or we will make you spell out phone numbers in the 17th edition.

Numbers Beginning a Sentence

AP (p. 202)

  • Spell out numbers that begin a sentence unless it begins with a year (e.g., Twelve drummers, The 10 lords a-leaping, 2011’s quota for off-season holiday references has been filled).

Chicago (9.5)

  • Always spell out numbers that begin a sentence, or reword to avoid unwieldiness. Well, if you think that Nineteen ninety-one looks more awesome than The year 1991, then go right ahead. [Awkward silence as double bind takes effect]

There is no and when you spell out whole numbers (e.g., one hundred one Dalmatians, not one hundred and one Dalmatians).


AP (p. 202)

  • Spell out ordinal numbers up to (and including) ninth when indicating sequence in time or location (e.g., first kiss, 11th hour) but not when indicating sequence in naming conventions (usually geographic, military, or political, e.g., 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals).

Chicago (9.6)

  • Spell out ordinal numbers up to (and including) hundredth (e.g., second, sixty-first, 333rd, 1,024th).

A Word About Consistency

AP (p. 203)

  • If you’re juggling a bunch of numbers within the same sentence, stick to the rules as stated and you’ll be fine. Breathe.

Chicago (9.7)

  • If you’re juggling a bunch of numbers within the same paragraph or series of paragraphs, be flexible with the number style if doing so will improve clarity and comprehension. For example, use one number style for items in one category and another style for another category: “I read four books with more than 400 pages, sixty books with more than 100 pages, and a hundred articles with fewer than 4 pages.”

Now that the basics of number style have been laid out, I bet that you can smell the exceptions 1.1 miles away. [A beat, then exit stage right]

State Abbreviations: Use Traditional or Go Postal?

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.

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.

Titles: Quote Marks, Italics, Underlining, or Naked?

Titles: Quote Marks, Italics, Underlining, or Naked?

Remember the days when your manual typewriter didn’t have a key for the number 1, so you used a lowercase letter L instead? And to type an exclamation point, you typed an apostrophe first, backspaced, and then typed a period beneath it? Sure you do, punk.

Clarification: I’m not that old; my high school was poor. We pasted our newspaper dummies together with wax and made type changes with a dull razor.

Well, we don’t type that way anymore, because technology has blessed us with 1s and !s on our keyboards. Likewise, because we are capable of rendering type in italics, you underline titles only when writing them by hand or using software that doesn’t italicize. As long as you remember that underlining equals italics and to never underline when you can italicize, you’re good.

You can get pretty far by following the “Big/heavy equals italics” (like books) and “Small/light equals quotes” (like poems) generalizations.

As for enclosing titles in quotation marks or italicizing them, you can get pretty far by following the “Big/heavy equals italics” (like books) and “Small/light equals quotes” (like poems) generalizations, but Associated Press style doesn’t italicize nothin’ and Chicago style has layers of specificity and if-then statements. Fun!

Because the Associated Press stylebook is not indexed and the manual for Chicago style covers title style in several sections (intermixed with name style and capitalization style), some title styles may have been inadvertently omitted due to oblivion on my part. Please send me a note if any oversight makes you twitch.

It’s all arbitrary, so go for clarity and sustainability.

Following is the breakdown between AP style and Chicago style. This is intended as a quick rundown or cheat sheet; for examples of each, please refer to the pages and sections indicated. “Neither” means that the usual headline-style (or title-style) caps still apply, but the title/name is naked as far as quotes and italics are concerned. (Capitalization for titles will be covered in a future blog entry.)

Note: Use Command-F or Ctrl-F to perform searches.

Titles for . . .APChicago
AlbumsQuotes (p. 62)Italics (8.192)
AlmanacsNeither (p. 62)
AppsNeither (p. 62), e.g., Facebook, FoursquareItalics (8.193)
ArtQuotes (p. 62)Italics (8.193)
ArticlesQuotes (8.175)
BibleNeither (p. 62)
Blog entriesQuotes (8.187)
BlogsItalics (8.187)
BooksQuotes (p. 62)—but the Bible and catalogs of reference material use neitherItalics (8.166)—but book series and editions use neither (8.174)
CartoonsItalics (8.194)
CatalogsNeither (p. 62)
ChaptersQuotes (8.175)
Classical music, nicknamesQuotes (p. 63)
Classical music, identified by sequenceNeither (p. 63)
Columns (in periodicals)Neither (8.175, 14.205)
Comic stripsItalics (8.194)
Computer games and computer-game appsQuotes (p. 62), e.g., “Farmville”Italics (Chicago Style Q&A)
Computer softwareNeither for software such as WordPerfect or Windows (p. 62)
ConferencesNeither (8.69)—unless it has “status,” then use quotes
Departments (in periodicals)Neither (8.175, 14.202)
DictionariesNeither (p. 62)
DirectoriesNeither (p. 62)
DrawingsItalics (8.193)
EncyclopediasNeither (p. 62)
EssaysQuotes (8.175)
Exhibitions (large)Neither (8.195)
Exhibitions (small)Italics (8.195)
Fairs (large)Neither (8.195)
Fairs (small)Italics (8.195)
GazetteersNeither (p. 62)
HandbooksNeither (p. 62)
JournalsItalics (8.166)—unless part of name of award, organization, etc. (8.170)
Lecture seriesNeither (8.86)
Lectures (individual)Quotes (p. 62)Quotes (8.86)
MagazinesNeither (p. 159)Italics (8.166)—unless part of name of award, organization, etc. (8.170)
MeetingsNeither (8.69)—unless it has “status,” then use quotes
MoviesQuotes (p. 62)Italics (8.185)
NewspapersItalics (8.166)—unless part of name of award, organization, etc. (8.170)
OperasQuotes (p. 62)Italics (8.189)—for long musical compositions or instrumental works, see 8.189-8.190
PaintingsItalics (8.193)
PamphletsItalics (8.193)
PeriodicalsItalics (8.166), unless part of name of award, organization, etc. (8.170)
PhotographsItalics (8.193)
PlaysQuotes (p. 62)Italics (8.181)
Podcast episodesQuotes (8.187)
PodcastsItalics (8.187)
PoemsQuotes (p. 62)Quotes (8.179)—unless book length, then treated as book (italics)
Radio episodes (in series)Quotes (8.185)
Radio programs and seriesQuotes (p. 62)Italics (8.185)
ReportsItalics (8.193)
Short storiesQuotes (8.175)
SongsQuotes (p. 62)Quotes (8.189)
SpeechesQuotes (p. 62)Neither (8.75)—unless it has “status,” then use quotes.
StatuesItalics (8.193)
Television episodes (in series)Quotes (8.185)
Television programs and seriesQuotes (p. 62)Italics (8.185)
Unpublished worksQuotes (8.184)
Video blogsItalics (8.187)
Video-blog episodesQuotes (8.187)
Web pages and sectionsQuotes (8.186)
WebsitesNeither (8.186)

When it gets confusing, just remember these golden rules of copyediting:

  1. Whatever you choose, be consistent.
  2. But beware of having a tin ear.
  3. It’s all arbitrary, so go for clarity and sustainability.

Good luck.

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