Online or On-lineThe Internet Writing Journal, August 1997
Welcome to our interactive poll. This month our topic is whether or not to hyphenate the word "online". For example, when you read the news on the Web, are you reading the news online or on-line?
The rules for hyphen usage are complex and take up a good portion of most grammar and style books. The general rule of thumb in this instance is that when a new word is formed, a hyphen is used until the word has passed into common parlance in the English language. When this happens, the hyphen is dropped. Most style books tell us to consult and to follow the format used by the major dictionaries, many of which still retain the hyphen in the word "on-line".
There seems to be no uniformity whatsoever on the Web on this issue. Microsoft Press uses the word "online" when referring to "Online Support", but uses "on-line" in the rest of its main site. NationsBank urges us to use "Online" banking. The New York Times on the Web, Wired, National Geographic Online and Barron's Online all appear to favor "online" without a hyphen. The Wall Street Journal appears to favor the hyphen, as do many offline publications and newspapers.
In a new web site, the manuscript editing department at the University of Chicago Press answers just this type of question. Its response to a reader who recently asked this question was as follows:
"A. Because CMOS can at best list only so many guidelines and examples for the treatment of compound words and hyphenation, we also rely a great deal on Webster's. Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition, uses a hyphen: on-line. (At least a few Chicago editors favor "online" and hope the next edition of the Collegiate will kill the hyphen.) As always, however, what matters most is that the style remain consistent throughout a given document."
What do you think? Has the term "online" passed into common parlance? Is it time to lose the hyphen? Let us know!
**Polling has now been disabled for archiving purposes. You can view the results of the poll here.**
Update: It is time to switch to "online" if you haven't already. Our readers were clearly ahead of the trend as the poll results suggest. The hyphen is no longer required and looks outdated.
You can find more about grammar, usage and style in our grammar section.