Coworker or Co-worker – What’s the Difference?

Hyphens are a difficult tool for many writers to master. They are often used between two words to form hyphenated compounds and within words when using some prefixes.

Coworker is one such word. The prefix co­- is often used with a hyphen. Consider the words,

  • Co-owner
  • Co-designer
  • Co-conspirator

While some writers include the hyphen in co-worker, others omit it to form coworker. Correct grammar and punctuation is important for professional writing, which is also the most likely context for this word, so you will want to be sure you are using it correctly.

What is the Difference Between Coworker and Co-Worker?

In this article, I will compare coworker vs. co-worker. I will use each of these spellings in at least one example sentence.

Plus, I will give you a bit of advice on how to proceed with these two words. Should you choose coworker or co-worker for your own correspondence?

When to Use Coworker

coworker co-workerWhat does coworker mean? Coworker is a noun that means a colleague or a person whose job intersects with one’s own. Generally, coworkers engage in similar work and occupy similar roles within an organization.

Here are some examples,

  • My coworker Andy makes a delicious shrimp salad that is a hit at company parties.
  • Let me put you in touch with my coworker, Jill; she is the project manager on that contract.
  • If you are only responding to one coworker in your email, please do not click “reply all.”

In Garner’s Modern English Usage, the eponymous author recommends spelling the word “without a hyphen” (p. 230). The Chicago Manual of Style also prefers the unhyphenated coworker.

Some people, however, object to the spelling coworker because it conjures up the idea of a cow: coworker.

When to Use Co-worker

Co-worker is the traditional spelling of the word. It was the predominant variant up until the end of the 20th century, and many publications still prefer it.

coworkers versus co-workers

The above graph charts coworker vs. co-worker across all English-speaking countries. As you can see, coworker has recently surpassed co-worker.

In American English, the preference for coworker is slightly stronger:

Definition of co-workers definition of coworkers definition

On the other hand, in British English, co-worker is much more common, to this day:

Define co-workers and define coworkers

Despite these usage trends, most publications still seem to favor co-worker. The AP Stylebook, for instance, prefers the hyphenated co-worker, which explains why so many newspapers still use this form.

  • On one occasion, Santiago showed his former co-worker some photos from the battlefield. –The Wall Street Journal
  • Now imagine you discover that your co-worker, when at home, regularly fails to do any of these things. –The New York Times
  • Dating a co-worker can be convenient: You have a built-in coffee or lunch buddy; when you talk about work off the clock, your partner knows all the characters involved. –The Washington Post

Trick to Remember the Difference

In short, both of these spellings are acceptable. The unhyphenated coworker appears to be gaining ground in popular usage, but both spellings are used with great frequency.

Unfortunately, this is one of those spellings that a certain percentage of people will think it’s misspelled no matter what you choose.

My advice would be to check your company style guide (if one exists). If you adhere to AP Style, use co-worker. If you work at a publishing house and adhere to Chicago Style, use coworker.

If one doesn’t exist, or you are a lone-wolf writer seeking help, default to the hyphenated co-worker. This spelling still seems to be the most used in edited, authoritative prose.

Summary

Is it coworker or co-worker? Coworker and co-worker are alternate spellings of a word indicating a person with whom someone works; a colleague.

  • Coworker and co-worker are roughly equal in their use worldwide.
  • At this time, I advise defaulting to the hyphenated co-worker.

If you ever need a quick refresher on any confusing words, you can always bookmark this site to help you out.

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