I've seen all three versions for describing a person on stage performing comedy: "stand up", "standup", and "stand-up".

My guess is that the term started as two words, but as the performance form itself became more established in the culture, the set of the two words together became perceived as a single unit. Reflecting that, in writing, some people even started merging the words or joining them with a hyphen.

Based on that assumption, I'm extrapolating that it's a term in the midst of evolving, and so maybe there might not be an absolute answer on this.

Still, I'd like to be consistent myself and settle on one. Is there any particular reason I should choose one over the others?

4 Answers 4


The Guardian Style Guide says:


adjective, as in a standup comedian performing standup comedy; and noun: a standup performing standup

Generally, it's a matter of grammar whether to space words or hyphenate. And generally, it's a matter of style or usage whether to hyphenate or join the words together.

For example:

I log in to my computer and enter my login details.

Here log in is an action, and login describes my personal details. Login could be hyphenated, and often hyphenated words lose their hyphen over time and with use. We used to say to-day and to-morrow.

The Guardian Style Guide again:


Our style is to use one word wherever possible. Hyphens tend to clutter up text (particularly when the computer breaks already hyphenated words at the end of lines). This is a widespread trend in the language: "The transition from space to hyphen to close juxtaposition reflects the progressive institutionalisation of the compound," as Rodney Huddleston puts it, in his inimitable pithy style, in his Introduction to the Grammar of English.

See the rest of their hyphen entry for more.

  • Well, the Guardian is clearly bent on elimination of the hyphen. I will continue to use it here.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Commented Apr 28, 2012 at 21:43
  • 1
    @z7sg Indeed, and further in their hyphen entry they say: "Inventions, ideas and new concepts often begin life as two words, then become hyphenated, before finally becoming accepted as one word. Why wait? "Wire-less" and "down-stairs" were once hyphenated, and some old-fashioned souls still hyphenate e- mail." As I said, this is a matter of style, not grammar; so each should choose their preferred style and apply it consistently.
    – Hugo
    Commented Apr 28, 2012 at 22:36
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    This makes a staggering amount of sense. Great example with "login" versus "log in". I see from the Ngram provided by @JR that "stand-up" is more common. However, it seems undeniable that hyphens represent transitional phase ultimately leading to the unification of the words entirely. So, as The Guardian says, why wait? Thus, I'm sold on "standup" as my style from now on.
    – Questioner
    Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 6:13

Wow! 12 hours, and nobody's done the Ngram yet?

enter image description here

Not that Ngrams are always right, nor should they be accepted as the final word, but it looks like the hyphonated form gets used most often, and that's how this scholar chose to write the term:

enter image description here

Although that doesn't mean the other format isn't also accepted in publication:

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As a footnote, even stand-up comics wonder about etymology sometimes:

Whose cruel idea was it for the word “Lisp” to have a “S” in it? (George Carlin)

  • +1 for providing the Ngram and a good overview of the usage of the terms.
    – Questioner
    Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 6:14

Doesn't it also matter whether the word is used as an adjective or noun? My feeling is to use stand-up (adj.) and standup (noun).

  • 2
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    – Community Bot
    Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 1:44
  • The question is about "stand up comedy" not "stand up" as a noun.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 8:20

"stand-up comedy" is good. Compound nouns have to start somewhere, so "standup comedy" may be on its way. "stand up comedy" is asking comedy to stand up.

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