Is It Coworking or Co-working — The Grammar and Evolution of a Modern Workplace Term

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In the ever-evolving landscape of modern work environments, the way we describe these spaces is equally dynamic. Among the terminology that has gained prominence in recent years, "coworking" and "co-working" are two variations that have generated significant debate. Is it coworking or co-working? This seemingly innocuous question reveals more than just a preference for spelling; it unveils the intricacies of language evolution, the nuances of professional jargon, and the impact of global trends on the way we work.

The Grammatical Quandary

Before diving into the historical and contextual aspects, let's address the grammatical debate that surrounds coworking and co-working. At its core, the question revolves around hyphenation. English, as a language, employs hyphens to connect compound words or phrases, ensuring clarity and coherence in written communication. However, the application of hyphens is not a rigid rule; it often depends on evolving linguistic conventions and the preferences of style guides.

In the case of coworking and co-working, both spellings have been widely used and accepted. "Coworking" is a closed compound word, combining "co" (short for "cooperative" or "collaborative") and "working." This structure follows the trend of closed compounds like "workspace," "network," or "homework." On the other hand, "co-working" employs a hyphen, emphasizing the separation between "co" and "working," suggesting a more explicit connection between the two elements.

To add to the confusion, language is flexible, and its rules are influenced by popular usage. Over time, "coworking" has become the more prevalent and accepted spelling, largely due to its widespread use in marketing materials, industry publications, and everyday conversation. Many authoritative sources, such as dictionaries and style guides, now list "coworking" as the primary spelling. This shift towards a closed compound reflects the adaptability and evolution of the English language in response to societal changes.

The Rise of the Coworking Phenomenon

To understand the development of the term "coworking" or "co-working," it's essential to delve into the origins of the coworking movement itself. Coworking, as a concept, emerged in the early 2000s as a response to the changing nature of work. Traditional office spaces and the 9-to-5 workday were no longer the only options for professionals.

Entrepreneurs like Brad Neuberg and software developer Citizen Space played pivotal roles in the birth of the coworking movement. Neuberg, in particular, is often credited with opening the first official coworking space in San Francisco in 2005. These spaces were designed to offer a shared working environment where freelancers, remote workers, and small business owners could come together to collaborate, exchange ideas, and escape the isolation often associated with working from home.

The term "coworking" or "co-working" (at that time, both spellings were used interchangeably) was coined to describe this emerging trend. It encapsulated the essence of collaborative workspaces, where individuals from diverse professional backgrounds shared a common environment and resources while pursuing their own projects and goals.

The Evolution of Coworking

As coworking spaces proliferated globally, the terminology also evolved. "Coworking" became the preferred spelling in many English-speaking regions, including the United States and the United Kingdom. This shift towards the closed compound "coworking" can be attributed to several factors:

  1. Marketing and Branding: Coworking operators and organizations used "coworking" in their names and branding, contributing to its widespread adoption.
  2. Consistency: The closed compound provided consistency with other terms like "networking" and "telecommuting," making it easier to understand and remember.
  3. Simplicity: The closed compound simplified the term, eliminating the need for a hyphen, which many people found cumbersome.
  4. Globalization: As coworking became a global phenomenon, standardizing the spelling helped ensure a common understanding across language barriers.
  5. Digital Influence: The prevalence of digital communication platforms and social media, where hashtags and domain names favor unhyphenated words, also played a role.

The Influence of Style Guides and Dictionaries

Language authorities and style guides have a significant impact on the acceptance and standardization of terms. Many dictionaries and language organizations have updated their entries to reflect the prevalence of "coworking" over "co-working." Merriam Webster, for instance, lists "coworking" as the primary spelling, acknowledging its evolution.

Style guides, such as The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style, have also adapted to this change. They now recommend using "coworking" without a hyphen in professional and journalistic writing. This alignment with industry standards reinforces "coworking" as the prevailing spelling in formal communication.

The International Perspective

In some non-English-speaking countries, the term "co-working" with a hyphen may still be preferred due to linguistic conventions. Local cultures and languages influence the adoption of terminology, and it's not uncommon to find variations in the way coworking is spelled and pronounced worldwide.

The Future of Coworking Terminology

As we look ahead, it's evident that "coworking" is the dominant spelling in the global professional landscape. The closed compound has become the standard term used by coworking operators, industry publications, and professionals worldwide. Its widespread acceptance and usage are likely to continue evolving as the coworking movement itself adapts to changing work patterns and societal needs.

The spelling "co-working" with a hyphen, while still understood, is gradually fading into the background. It may persist in localized contexts or regions where linguistic conventions favor hyphenated compounds. However, for the sake of clarity and consistency in global communication, "coworking" is likely to remain the preferred spelling.


So, is it coworking or co-working? The answer, in today's professional landscape, is overwhelmingly "coworking." This shift from "co-working" to "coworking" reflects the fluid nature of language, the influence of industry trends, and the adaptability of English to meet the evolving needs of the workplace.

Whether you prefer "coworking" or "co-working," the most crucial aspect is understanding the concept itself—a collaborative, flexible, and innovative approach to work that has transformed the way we view and experience our professional lives.

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