The Grammarphobia Blog

Home school, home-school, or homeschool?

Q: Which one of these is correct: “home school” or “home-school” or “homeschool”?  Also, is “homeschooler” one word, two, or hyphenated?

 A: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English  Language (4th ed.) lists both “homeschool” and “home-school,” in that order, for both the noun and the verb. 

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) gives only the closed version, “homeschool,” as well as “homeschooler” and “homeschooled.” (M-W says a “homeschooler” is a parent who homeschools or a child who’s homeschooled.)

We’d vote for one word, no hyphen, in all these cases, and we’d add “homeschool” as an adjective as well as a noun and a verb. (Over the years, familiar compounds tend to begin as separate words, then become hyphenated, and finally merge into one.) 

The verb “homeschool,” the adjective “homeschooled,” and the noun “homeschooler” are relatively recent terms, dating from the 1980s, according to published references in the Oxford English Dictionary.

However, the noun “homeschool” (which was written as two words at first) is much older, going back to the mid-19th century. The OED defines it as “a school located in a private home; the fact of educating children, esp. one’s own, in the home.”

The first citation for the noun in the OED is from Margaret Percival in America, an 1850 novel by Edward Everett Hale and Lucretia Peabody Hale: “Margaret saw that she had interrupted a sort of home school. She begged them to go on, saying that she was used to that duty herself, at home.”

Although the adjective “homeschool” (which was hyphenated at first) is also quite old, dating from the early 1900s, it initially referred to the relationship between what a child learned at home and what he learned at school.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that the adjective “homeschool” (as well as the newer “homeschooled”) was used to refer to educating a child at home.

The first OED citation for “homeschool” used this way is from a 1981 article in the New York Times: “A few parents appear to be thriving on the home-school arrangement. One mother said she ‘learned as much as her children did.’ ”

And the first cite for “homeschooled” used like this is from a 1985 Times article: “He cited several cases of home-schooled students being admitted to good colleges at early ages.” (The term is hyphenated in most of the OED citations).

One other old term, “homeschooling,” dates from the end of the 19th century. The OED’s first citation (in two words) is from an 1899 article in the Fort Wayne (Indiana) News: “After his home schooling Judge Dawson entered Pennsylvania College at Gettysburg.”

Again, my advice is to use a single word, without a hyphen, for all these terms, but this is a matter of style, not grammar, and some dictionaries may disagree.

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