My initial attempt to settle the question with a google search didn't help as much as I'd hoped:

  • A search for 'high schooler' revealed approximately 4% of results employing the hyphenated form.

  • A search for 'middle schooler' revealed a significantly higher rate: 20% of entries employed the hyphenated form. (Including this recent article.)

  • A search for 'elementary schooler' revealed no use of the hyphenated "elementary-schooler" within the first 100 entries. (I stopped looking after that.) So, effectively, less than 1%.

Based on this search, it would seem that "middle-schooler" is somewhat acceptable and "elementary-schooler" is not acceptable. "High-schooler", however, is unclear.

What I'm needing to decide right now regards the usage of "high-schooler" which I personally prefer to "high schooler". Even though google search trends suggest "high schooler" is used much more frequently, can I get away with using the hyphenated form as a stylistic choice?

My feeling is that if "middle-schooler" is allowed, then "high-schooler" should be just as permissible. After all, someday I might have to type something about a "high high schooler", and I'll wish I had been using the hyphenated form all along.

  • 2
    Ngram shows about 25% of books used high-schooler, and 75% high schooler. It is far from unusual; if you want to hyphen it, unless you're following a guide that states differently, i think you should feel free. Mar 24, 2014 at 5:16
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    I feel I have to because of the Zite picture, ITS FRONKENSTEEN
    – user69900
    Mar 24, 2014 at 10:53

2 Answers 2


I ran an NGRAM of high schooler, high-schooler, highschooler, high school student, and high-school student.

Click here to see the results.

By far the preferred nomenclature was high school student. High schooler was a distant third, and high-schooler barely mapped. This result was surprising given the rule of hyphenating compound adjectives, but I guess that high school without a hyphen is a standard morphology.

  • 2
    Thank you and @medica for introducing me to NGRAM. What a game changer! Even though "high-schooler" barely mapped, it did make up nearly 25% of how the term was spelled. I'm accepting your answer for the keen observation that no matter how it's spelled, the term should probably be avoided. Mar 24, 2014 at 15:30
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    @wordsmitten It is quite useful. But, it can give spurious results, too. It doesn't take into account context.
    – David M
    Mar 24, 2014 at 15:34

I'm a junior-high school English teacher, and offer my experience at English grammar. High school (no dash) is proper if used alone, such as "I went to high school." However, use a dash if a noun follows the word school, as in "a high-school boy." Otherwise, it would read, "a high school boy" and would imply that you are talking about a schoolboy who happens to be high (stoned)! I hope this clears it up.

Oh, one more thing! Always use a comma before the last item in a list, as in red, green, and yellow peppers. That makes it clear you have red peppers, green peppers, and yellow peppers. Without that final comma the sentence reads differently: ("red, green and yellow peppers"), and one might assume that you have red peppers plus some peppers that are green-and-yellow (a pepper that has both green and yellow colors in it).

Write on...! :)

  • 1
    The use of the "Oxford comma" is optional: some style guides are in favor of it, and others are against it. So I don't agree that one should "always" use it.
    – herisson
    Jun 5, 2018 at 2:37
  • Never use a dash in the word high-school. If it is used attributively, use a hyphen. A dash (that is, either an en dash or an em dash) is a different character that has no place inside words. And as sumelic says, using Oxford commas is entirely optional. It also doesn’t really reduce ambiguity: if you say red, green, and yellow peppers, one might assume you have yellow peppers as well as the colours red and green. Ambiguity can always be forced if you try hard enough. Jul 5, 2018 at 7:26
  • This answer completely ignores the question which is about “high schooler”, not "high-school boy". Oct 31, 2020 at 15:50

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