According to Cambridge Dictionary, the suffix "-wise" used in the sense 'relating to' is informal in BrE. The examples they list are as follows:

  • What shall we do food-wise - do you fancy going out to eat?
  • Money-wise, of course, I'm much better off than I used to be.
  • What do we need to take with us clothes-wise?
  • We were very lucky weather-wise yesterday.

Whereas I totally see that these particular examples are informal (since they're all examples of everyday spoken language), I'm wondering whether the suffix as such really is informal. Thoughts?

2 Answers 2


This is to a large extent, a matter of style. Compounds, hyphenated or not, in the form noun-wise are often used informally, as most dictionaries advise. A few, related to manner or direction, have no hyphen and become incorporated into the language as 'dictionary words' and use of these is not considered informal. Examples are lengthwise, clockwise, anti/counterclockwise, otherwise, likewise.

Most style guides advise that not only are ad-hoc hyphenated creations informal, excessive use of them is to be deplored. This practice was mocked in the 1960 Jack Lemmon-Shirley MacLaine film The Apartment. More than two such words in the same piece of writing or dialogue would probably be too much.

Attempts to promote such a word to respectability by removing the hyphen would probably not work.

-wise suffix (Grammarist)

The suffix 'wise' (Language Blues)

In recent decades an increase in the use of the English suffix ‑wise was commented on by several authors (...). In fact, this phenomenon has also elicited comment and advice from sources following a more prescriptive tradition, such as style manuals used and prepared by editorial staff of various newspapers and magazines, discouraging language users from employing this suffix by proclaiming it non‑standard. Thus, for example, The University of Minnesota Style Manual states firmly: “Adding the suffix ‑wise to a word is almost never appropriate. […] Avoid it.” Bauer and Huddleston (Chapter 19 'Lexical Word Formation', Cambridge Grammar of the English Language) explicitly mention that the construction is frowned upon by prescriptivists, but seems to have “caught on” in less formal, particularly, spoken discourse. Indeed, the formation of adverbs in ‑wise from nouns is alive and well, thriving in both American and British English, as illustrated by a private letter received by the author of the present article from her English friends

(1) Our family seems o.k., although P. is causing some concern healthwise.

(2) Hopefully you & B. have managed to get some resistance to the ‘nursery germs’ and will have a better winter cold & flu-wise.

The English Suffix -Wise and its Productivity from the Non-Native Speaker Perspective

  • Funny that those authors thought of "-wise" as a "recent" phenomenon in 2009. I associate it more with speakers of, well, Jack Lemon's age. I first saw The Apartment not too many years before 2009, and I found that characterization (wise-wise) charmingly dated.
    – Juhasz
    Feb 17, 2023 at 20:31
  • @Juhasz - I can remember it seeming very 'American' in the 1960s to my UK ear. I guess that a number of decades can be but the blink of an eye to linguists. Feb 17, 2023 at 20:49

First of all, the suffix has other meanings, too:

  • It can mean having wisdom relating to, as in streetwise.

  • It can mean in the direction of, as in clockwise or widthwise.

Regarding the usage you are asking about - I wouldn't say that such words are 'informal'. English is very flexible as to the creation of compound words, particularly with recognisable suffixes. Formal language is perhaps less likely to contain such 'made up' words. If a word has found its way into the dictionary then there is really no reason to rule it out of formal speech unless due to its meaning it is inherently informal.

  • Opinion-wise, some might differ. Feb 17, 2023 at 21:07
  • So... you wouldn't quite agree with Michael Harvey's answer then?
    – Mooshi
    Feb 17, 2023 at 21:09
  • 1
    @Mooshi I prefer to answer questions rather than peer-review other answers. The other answer focuses on professional writing rather than everyday language, for which there is no style guide. I agree with what was said but I didn't think it answered your question which is why I offered an alternative.
    – Astralbee
    Feb 17, 2023 at 22:24
  • 1
    @Mooshi further, style guides can only belong to a mode of language that is either formal or informal, so I don't see how they are relevant in answering whether some language is one thing or the other.
    – Astralbee
    Feb 17, 2023 at 22:31
  • @Astralbee Right, I see what you mean. I guess I read Michael Harvey's answer as saying 'yes, this suffix is generally considered informal' rather than as saying that it is considered informal by style guides specifically. I really appreciate your taking the time to clarify :)
    – Mooshi
    Feb 19, 2023 at 20:55

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