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Which way of writing the word: "Email" or "e-mail" is correct? Both variants seem to be in wide use. If both ones are okay, maybe there is a difference in contexts they have been used (one is more formal than the other)?

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8 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Both e-mail and email are in standard use at this point, although e-mail retains a vast majority of usage in edited, published writing according to my research using the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA).

Here are the current results counts in COCA for various categories of English:

           e-mail  email
spoken     3535    711
fiction    789     285
magazine   5421    471
newspaper  6046    192
academic   3675    897
total      21696   2831
total(excl spoken)
           19531   1845

Obviously the “spoken” totals don’t represent any kind of actual usage but rather the policies of the organizations that transcribed the spoken data, so I also included a total that excludes the spoken examples. So, in (edited, published) fiction, magazines, newspapers, and academic writing we find that the traditional e-mail outnumbers incidences of email by more than 10 to 1. COCA includes data starting from 1990.

Now that we have established that e-mail retains the position of preferred usage by a very large margin, let’s look at trends over time. These numbers are in incidences per million words (rather than total incidences):

     e-mail  email
1990  0.15    0.00
1991  2.46    0.05
1992  1.67    0.00
1993  5.49    0.05
1994 10.40    0.24
1995 16.11    1.71
1996 22.41    2.14
1997 51.71    2.09
1998 38.15    1.62
1999 50.33    4.67
2000 85.98    6.37
2001 83.75    7.03
2002 95.29    3.38
2003 94.35    5.23
2004 79.68    4.51
2005 72.53    5.58
2006 72.38   10.09
2007 85.20   14.18
2008 68.26   26.56
2009 97.37   33.23
2010 87.93   26.66

This is a graphical representation showing the data over time:

graph comparing e-mail vs email between 1990 and 2010

The blue and red lines show the frequency of incidence for e-mail and email per million words. The orange line shows the ratio of incidence between e-mail and email over the same period. From these results, we see that e-mail was on a meteoric rise in the 1990s and by 2000 it has locked in at between 70 and 100 incidences per million words. Email, on the other hand, saw very little usage until 2005, when its use soared up to about 30 incidences per million words over the last few years.

What does all this tell us? We see a word whose spelling is in transition. It is not clear whether email will eventually reach and surpass e-mail. For the time being, e-mail has retained its position as the preferred usage by a factor of three to one over the past few years. The numbers can change very quickly and email may win out in five years, or it may stay a minority usage for a long time. Only time will tell. In the meantime, you are in good company if you use e-mail. That’s what I use.

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Nice research! The result is somewhat surprising (to me), even if it pertains just to edited, published American English writing. I'd wager the distribution in online writing—and indeed in email writing—would greatly differ. It would also be interesting to know what it looks like for edited British English writing (given Knuth's notion quoted in my answer). – Jonik Aug 25 at 18:07
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@Jonik, sadly the British National Corpus, which is available for searching, only contains content up to 1993 and just one incidence of e-mail in the entire corpus. – nohat Aug 25 at 18:19
I wonder if the rise in email correlates with gmail. – cindi Aug 26 at 7:34
up vote 10 down vote

Both are correct and common. I'd recommend the shorter and simpler email.

There seems to be a tendency to drop hyphen as a newly coined word becomes more and more commonplace:

electronic mail → e-mail → email

That is what I've read earlier somewhere, and looking around I now found at least this quote by Donald Knuth to support the claim:

Newly coined nonce words of English are often spelled with a hyphen, but the hyphen disappears when the words become widely used. For example, people used to write "non-zero" and "soft-ware" instead of "nonzero" and "software"; the same trend has occurred for hundreds of other words. Thus it's high time for everybody to stop using the archaic spelling "e-mail". Think of how many keystrokes you will save in your lifetime if you stop now! The form "email" has been well established in England for several years, so I am amazed to see Americans being overly conservative in this regard.

Even if you ignore that, overwhelming evidence seems to suggest that "email" is the form that everyone is likely to eventually settle upon (so you might just as well go with that now):

  • Most dictionaries use "email"; see the "Spelling" section in Wikipedia's Email article
    • Do also note the title of that article...
  • This note on the Wikipedia talk page points out that "email" is used almost unanimously by both email web service providers and client software authors, Microsoft being a lone proponent of "e-mail".
    • More recently even Microsoft seems to have given in (partially)! Although Outlook is still called an "e-mail" management tool, Hotmail now claims to be The efficient way to do email.

That said, if you deliberately want to sound ultra-formal or ceremonial, go with "electronic mail". :-)

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Apparently Knuth wrote that sometime in the 1990s, so I guess now in 2010s it really would be high time to stop using the spelling he called "archaic" :) – Jonik Aug 25 at 17:34
(Yes, I realise the hyphenated form will probably take a couple more decades to die out. Let's see if email—as the technology we know today—will still be around then...) – Jonik Aug 25 at 17:37
"email" is never once used in RFC2282. They use e-mail in scentences and when listing contact information: "EMail: asdf@example.com." Wikipedia is not a valid source, it's an aggregate of other sources. – user680 Aug 27 at 13:05
Umm, RFC 2282, "IAB and IESG Selection, Confirmation, and Recall Proc" – what does that have to do with this? (Incidentally, "email" is used in that document.) In any case, look at a recent email-related RFC, such as 5321 on SMTP and you'll see it does prefer "email" over "e-mail". – Jonik Aug 27 at 13:34
As for Wikipedia, "aggregate of sources" is exactly what I used it as. – Jonik Aug 27 at 13:35
up vote 7 down vote

The New Oxford American Dictionary reports that the word is e-mail, but also email.

Wiktionary has a voice for e-mail where it's reported email as alternative spelling, and the following note:

The spellings e-mail and email are both in common use. The use of email is now more widespread, likely due to one less character and thus making it easier to write or type, and is becoming a standardized usage for most businesses and Internet users. In general, the hyphenated form is more likely to be considered proper by those who follow strict grammatical rules; however, as a recently coined word, it remains an unsettled matter at this point.

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up vote 4 down vote

I generally use "email". I think people who work with technology use "email" and people who write about it use "e-mail" (though this isn't a standard).

Google, Yahoo and Apple use "email". USAToday, CNN and the New York Times use "e-mail".

According to wikipedia: There are several spelling variations that occasionally prove cause for surprisingly vehement disagreement.

  • email is the form required by IETF Requests for Comment and working groups. This spelling also appears in most dictionaries.
  • e-mail is a form recommended by some prominent journalistic and technical style guides.

Read more on: Email

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Your notion that "people who work with technology use 'email' and people who write about it use 'e-mail'" seems to be spot-on, looking at nohat's findings. – Jonik Aug 25 at 17:54
up vote 3 down vote

Using "email" is fine and probably more common in English, but do be aware that many languages that borrow from English only use "e-mail" because "email" is already a different word in Dutch, French, etc.

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Very Good point! – Atømix Aug 25 at 16:30
up vote 1 down vote

Time for a Google Fight!!! Okay, it would appear, surprisingly enough... that e-mail took round 1!!!

Yes, this issue is far from resolved, but I would go with e-mail if you're writing anything that will end up in print. In addition, everywhere in Outlook (an e-mail client) the word shows up as e-mail.

For now... "e-mail" appears to be the correct spelling.

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Incidentally, Outlook is almost the only popular email client to use "e-mail" [source]. – Jonik Aug 25 at 18:43
up vote 0 down vote

I prefer "email".

I think including the hyphen in the shortened version is incorrect since "e-mail" is ostensibly derived from the unhyphenated "electronic mail".

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up vote 0 down vote

It's actually EMail when you wish to list information:

eg,

   Phone: +1 858 651 4478
   Fax:   +1 858 651 1102
   EMail: presnick@qualcomm.com

And e-mail when you are writing it in a normal line of text, such as this.

Source: The technical document that specifies what e-mail is uses it this way.

It's been abused because it's a buzzword/slang for the electronic mail framework. I'm willing to argue origin of the terminology supersedes abuse of it.

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But note that RFC 2822 which you cited is obsoleted by RFC 5322 where e-mail has been replaced with email. – Jonik 2 days ago

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