Is it e-mail, email, E-mail or Email?

To hyphenate or not to hyphenate? Many people wonder about this when typing the abbreviated version of ‘electronic mail’ or ‘electronic business’ etc. As it is a relatively new word, you will find most variations of spellings backed up in various dictionaries or references: Wired Magazine announced that it should be hyphenated; Geek.com uses the hyphen; The New Hacker’s Dictionary uses ‘email’ in its glossary.

As with many new words, you can back up almost any spelling by looking in various reference books.

The most important thing to consider is always: ‘Can we really back this up, if asked about why we use it; what implications does this have on other words in this group?’

As ‘e’ represents ‘electronic’, e-mail is formed from two words, so this suggests that we should not then run one into the other to form ‘email’. It is a compound noun, where the first adjectival element is reduced to a single letter, just like T-bone steak and not Tbone! The word ‘e-mail’ (and others like e-business, e-commerce, i-knowledge) is just a common noun and so does not require an upper-case letter to start it, in normal use. Just like any other word, though, if it starts a sentence, it will have an upper-case ‘E’.

This also means that we do not write other such instances without paying due respect to their derivation: e-business, e-commerce, i-knowledge.

Remember, if your organisation has ‘chosen’ to use a certain spelling, without looking at the derivation, and ‘decided’ on no hyphen, then you are going to run into trouble when trying to write ‘eeconomy’; ‘eenvironment’. (If you use our well-founded reasoning, then you have something to back up your spelling, giving freedom to use e-economy and e-environment, along with e-mail and e-commerce.)

Other words a little like this:

H-beam, H-bomb, T-bone steak, T-shirt, U-turn, X-ray

Such use is becoming prevalent in today’s world of acronyms and diminutives and certainly within the IT industry, which just loves abbreviations – most of them quite helpful.

Examples:

  • e-learning
  • e-commerce
  • e-mail
  • e-business

If we always use this simple rule of derivation, it is obvious that we cannot simply choose how to write any one of these, any more than we can choose how to write H-bomb, ie hBomb, Hbomb, h-bomb!!!