The Jester in Grammar Queen’s Court

Whether I’m writing for Books & Whatnot, a review, or a social media post, I always have questions about grammar and usage. I keep various style guides at my desk, but more often than not I’ll just type my question into Google. “Is anal-retentive hyphenated?”

Google will return many results. And if they are included among the results, the source to which I gravitate most is

This online blog is so helpful to me. You see, I was part of an era in education that did not learn how to diagram a sentence. I am so far removed from being a grammar queen, but I am a lifelong learner. And explains to me in such a way that I actually understand what is meant when they use words like adjectival sense and participial noun.

Just as new words are added to dictionaries each year, usage rules change and evolve as well. doesn’t necessarily look at the etymology of a word, but instead follows its usage progression.

I’m sure that you have people on staff who write for the bookstore. Send them to And as I discover interesting rules, I plan to include them at the end of the pieces where I use them… and probably on the web version only so the newsletter doesn’t become too long. If you begin to find this annoying, just tell me. But if my ignorance can help another non-sentence-diagraming lifelong learner along the way, then my multitasking is worth it.

In both this piece and What do you always forget? I used various forms of the word multitask, which made me question, “Is multitask hyphenated?” Here’s what has to say:

Multitask works as both an adjective and a verb. Its adjectival sense is the original, arising in the early 1960s to describe computing systems in which multiple processes execute simultaneously. The verb sense—to perform multiple tasks at once—came about soon thereafter, as did the participial noun multitasking. Each of these terms remained primarily in the computing sphere before first gaining broader use in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Multitask doesn’t require a hyphen, but the hyphenated form appears often and is not a misspelling. There are no clear rules governing whether to use hyphens when forming words with living prefixes like multi-, and many people fall back on hyphenation when they’re unsure whether a compound word is dictionary-approved. So both multitask and multi-task are acceptable spellings, but there’s no reason to use the two-word, unhyphenated multi task. The word falls apart if its two main parts don’t work as one.

Beth Golay

Beth is a reader, writer, marketer and Books & Whatnot founder. Even though she knows better, she's a sucker for a good book cover and will positively swoon if a book is set in appropriate type. @BethGolay