Grammar Is It Coworker or Co-Worker? |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Is It Coworker or Co-Worker?

If you have a job, you probably have people you work with. But what should you call them?

Before you answer with something off the cuff, know that we are talking about the different spellings of coworker and co-worker. Which one is grammatically correct?

We have the answer in today’s post.

You Can’t Pick Your Coworkers, but You Can Choose Your Co-Worker Hyphenation

The shortest answer to the coworker versus co-worker discussion is that it’s a trick question: Both are valid as a noun that refers to someone else who works alongside you.

The spellings are different yet similar because both became common throughout the years. In other words, some teachers and editors prefer one version (and pass it on to their students or readers), while their colleagues prefer another. That means the decision of whether to write coworker or co-worker is often a matter of a writer’s choice.

If you can use either coworker or co-worker as you please, does it matter which one you apply? It probably doesn’t make a big difference, but we still have a recommendation to make.

How Should You Choose Between Coworker and Co-Worker?

If neither coworker nor co-worker seems particularly compelling to you, we will recommend you go with the hyphenated spelling, co-worker. As we point out in Rule 6 under Hyphens with Prefixes, writers will often hyphenate prefixes when they feel a word might be distracting without the punctuation. The word coworker might trip some readers who read it as leading with the word cow.

Choosing co-worker or coworker for your writing typically will not be a matter of a “right” or “wrong” spelling or word. Rather, your choice will come down to your own sense of writing style as well as your feel for your audience.

Usage might also be determined by formal or informal contexts. More-formal usage such as in books and reports might lean toward co-worker. Less-formal frameworks such as consumer blogs, text messages, and social media might opt for coworker simply because it may appear less formal, even if subtly. It also requires one less character for typing.

One last note before we go: As a concept, a co-worker differs from the action of co-working, which typically involves unaffiliated persons sharing a working space. When expressed as a verb, that word is typically hyphenated to help ensure clarity. Be sure to keep that in mind when considering the variations we’ve discussed.

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