A colleague was making a presentation, and the spell check indicated that workaround is written as one word. I don't understand why, as I understood that English does not merge words like Dutch (my native language)

Can anyone explain this?

  • 3
    We merge words in English all the time. Shutdown, warmup, sunglasses, blackboard, and many more. In general, we seem to use compound words when we're making a new noun, but this is not a strict rule. (For example, it's still "dining table" and not "diningtable".)
    – stangdon
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 14:21
  • 5
    Single-word workaround is the noun form. The "phrasal verb" usage is always two words - thus You can work around this problem using a workaround. Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 14:25
  • 3
    What @stangdon said. Some collocations (such as bathroom) are always written as a single word today. Others (such as sittingroom) may appear in either form. Usually if a collocation continues to occur with constant or increasing frequency, it tends to move from the two-word form to the single-word form (often, but not always, with significant use of the hyphenated form during the transition). Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 14:32

3 Answers 3


English uses compound words all the time, but it works differently than Dutch.

There is no consistent rule in where compounds are together or separated.

bedroom, workaround, sunglasses, whiteboard, broadsword, toadstool, Englishman, restroom, bathroom, handkerchief, airplane, redhead, desktop, bypass, overhead, overpass, homeschool, underestimate, underground, ...

They come in many flavours:

Noun adjunct + another noun:

bathroom, sunglasses, rooftop, handkerchief, toadstool, grassroots, Sunday, daytime,

Adjective + noun:

broadsword, redhead, Englishman, blackboard,

Preposition + noun:

outdoors, underground, inside,

Preposition + verb:

workaround, outgoing, ongoing, lockdown, uplift, download, markup,


dining room, high school, Chinese man, yellow board, garlic bread, go-to, ...

Also, there are terms that can be either separated or not:

passerby/passer-by, ...

This process is unpredictable. Although if a compound does manage to be made into one word, and becomes the predominant form, the one-word form will often stay the predominant form.

  • @RobAu This answer lists a lot of compound nouns. You can see that some are spelled with a space, some with a hyphen and some with neither (but are "combined").
    – GoDucks
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 19:32

In the 1960s, people often wrote "work-around" with a hyphen. Now that the term is well established (and now that the hyphen has dropped out of fashion a bit, too), it is almost always "workaround".

Others have said that there is no consistency in English about which compounds are made into one word, which left as two words, and which hyphenated. (Often there is more than one option per compound, as well, and some dictionaries list more than one spelling for many compounds.)

However, it is difficult to think of any phrasal verb where the equivalent noun compound is conventionally written as two words. Compounds of this type usually originate as (two-word) phrasal verbs and are made into (one-word, but sometimes hyphenated) nouns.

So the phrasal verb is two words (to work around, to put down, to send off, etc) - whereas the compound nouns formed from the phrasal verbs are written as a single word (sometimes hyphenated, especially in the case of less familiar words, and more often in BrE than AmE).

Examples: putdown, climbdown, workaround, setup/set-up, markup, makeup/make-up, wind-up, face-off, send-off, turn-off, turn-on, come-on, cut-out, phone-in, getaway, hideaway, hideout, show-off, write-in, write-off.


The previous answers highlight (there's one!) the problem of merged words, mostly compound nouns, ones that include an adjective to make a single word.
This is happening more and more in recent years and can really annoy educated users of English.

Existing examples: Somebody and some body, "somebody" is the pronoun for a person, identity probably unknown, whereas "that's some body!" would be an exclamation of appreciation of the attractiveness of a person. Rarely, this is further complicated by using "somebody" as meaning a person of significance or importance, like Shakespeare.

New on the scene is "everyday" being used for "every day". This is appalling to me and is an example of how words are misused by the ignorant. "Everyday" is an adjective and means the same as "ordinary". "Every day" is how often something happens. I think it comes from an advertising slogan that was something like "making the everyday better, every day", which I vaguely remember from the 80s.

To go back to my first line, there is a difference between a high light and a highlight.

People who say "Even Shakespeare used different spellings of the same word" are missing two points; firstly, that he had no dictionary, secondly, that English has evolved to a point where anything, abstract or concrete, can be accurately represented, which is surely the point of a language, and is now being destroyed by people who don't care about the difference between there, their and they're.

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