Ebook, eBook, ebook or e-book?

By Maeve Maddox

I share the concerns of the person who posted this question at Yahoo’s answer page:

I have seen the word “ebook” used in many different ways and would like to know the correct way to type it in a sentence. I have seen it typed ebook, Ebook, eBook, e-book, E-book, etc. Which is correct and when do I write it differently such as if it is a title, or at the beginning of a sentence.

I cannot, however, as apparently the person who asked the question could, accept this Yahoo answer:

Doesn’t really matter as long as someone understands what an e-book is. It’s a fairly new construct, and just as with email, I would argue there is not only one correct way to spell it, as long as your reader knows what you’re talking about.

What nonsense. Of course it matters! It does here, anyway.

I’ve been using the spelling eBook. I think it looks classier than ebook or e-book, but that’s just my opinion. To write this post I went to my usual venerable sources.

The entry in the OED is spelled e-book.

However, on the AskOxford site it’s spelled ebook.

Merriam-Webster favors e-book.

The Chicago Manual of Style has the spelling e-book in its index.

I can’t find it in the Penguin Writer’s Manual, but I do find e-mail, so I infer that they may favor e-book as well.

According to the standard sources, therefore, it looks as if e-book is the spelling to go with.

Or is it?

My favorite, eBook, seems to enjoy a certain popularity in the publishing marketplace.

There’s an online store called eBooks.com

The ad for the Microsoft Reader uses eBook. (However, the spell checker in Word recognizes only e-book as the correct spelling.)

There’s a Sony eBook Store.

Barnes & Noble calls them eBooks.

Maybe these merchants had better clean up their act, not just because the language authorities don’t recognize eBook, but because, just possibly, it’s bad advertising.

I say this because I happened upon an article by Richard Adams in which he describes an experiment he ran with his per click advertising. He ran ads with three different spellings of e-book: Ebook, ebook, and eBook.

According to his results, Ebook and ebook got about the same number of clicks, but eBook was a disaster. His conclusion:

When using pay per click advertising, if your ad contains the word “ebook” never spell it as eBook

I wonder what would have happened if he’d run an ad with the spelling e-book.

So which is it, readers? Ebook, ebook, eBook or e-book? Have your say in our poll. (RSS and e-mail subscribers might need to visit the website to see the poll widget).

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29 Responses to “Ebook, eBook, ebook or e-book?”

  • Dean at Pro Copy Tips

    This is similar to e-mail. Or is it email? I wrestled with this recently because I’ve been using the AP Stylebook-approved “e-mail” for years. But I see “email” so often, I decided to give in and just go with the flow. Words tend to simplify anyway, so it’s going to end up email whether I like it or not.

    Frankly, for things like this, there is no right or wrong. Reference books are descriptive, not prescriptive, meaning they’re on the trailing edge of language use and spelling. Once they record a rule, the rule is already being challenged by users of the language.

    Fortunately, I now work in the marketing industry, and spelling rules are fairly relaxed. But I used to work for a “book packager,” which is a firm that creates textbooks as a manufacturing process – assemble a team and research, write, edit, and design a book. (Those school textbooks your kids read aren’t written by the professor’s name on the cover.)

    Our standing orders for matters of spelling, grammar, and style were to be consistent within any given book or book series. If we would have bickered over e-book or ebook, the result would have been, “Okay, let’s keep using what we’ve been using, but if we want to change, we’ll change it on the next book.”

  • Brad K.

    I think different creators and publishers of digitally-published books, e-books or ebooks, and they each are entitled to use their own expression to label as well as define what they do.

    Some ebooks are Kindle-ready, others are simply screeds of plain text. PDF’s, etc.

    When you are talking about a product, then the maker or vendor has dibs on what the label is. If Maeve were to publish a book on Grammer Rules, and wanted to refer to the digitally expressed tome as an ebook – that is her call.

    As for the general concept of electronically-access “book” files, I imagine that in a few years the various academic and commercial variations will coalesce into something close to agreement. I think that time will be about 20 years after the first e-book distributed via the Internet, possibly by 2015. Until then, I will stick with whichever product I am dealing with.

    Email has been pretty much adopted not as a contraction, but an atomic word, comparable perhaps to words like eviscerate and egress. The standard spelling and capitalization rules apply simply.

    I don’t think e-book has yet matched that transition from geekdom to the same degree of literate acceptance as email.

    Then there is texting, text-message, or messaging (as opposed to instant messagin!). This behaves differently than email and e-book, since what is described is a service or action, rather than an object of action. And I don’t think usage has settled down to a standard form.

  • Cine Cynic

    I agree with the above comments. When the usage becomes common enough, the word will most probably get simplified, the way e-mail became email.

    Had eBook been a brand or a registered trademark (like iPod), it could have stayed eBook. I think even the ‘B’ will be replaced by ‘b’.

    Sounds like a question for the Language Log folks.

  • John E

    Personally, I like the idea of keeping the ‘e-‘ prefix and using lower case for all such terms, i.e. e-mail, e-book, e-bill, e-commerce, etc.

    Now I just need everyone else to see things my way …

  • Jay

    I agree with all of the above. E-mail has largely been transitioned to email and e-book will become ebook even if we are discussing years into the future. At the beginning of a sentence, the user will capitalize the first letter as usual. Each of these must first and foremost start being used colloquially and the normal “de-geekifying” will take place.

  • Brendan

    “E-mail” and “e-book” go hand in hand, while eBook seems to be copying “iMac” or “iTunes.”

    Don’t give in to Steve Jobs

  • Silke

    To be perfectly honest – I don’t care how someone spells it.
    eBook looks nicer than Ebook (to me), and I hate e-book and e-mail.
    And I’d like to see anyone who is e-mailing someone… 😛

  • thebluebird11

    I think you’re all correct; I too started out with the little hyphen (“e-mail”), but I think that precisely because technology is designed to speed things up and also, ideally, to simplify/streamline our lives, the hyphen will be seen as disposablel. So even if it starts out as “e-book,” it will become “ebook,” just as I, ever the persnickety one when it comes to spelling and punctuation, now resignedly call it email. I must admit, I always favor a clean, uncluttered look in printed matter (my office is another story).
    I never really thought about it too much, since e-books are not yet commonplace (at least where I am), but after seeing all the candidates, I think “eBook” is quite a nice construction. Somehow, it emphasizes the fact that this is a book, and as such, perhaps deserves a little more respect than just a quick, easily-deletable email. However, as time goes on, when people are typing, they will be less and less likely to go the extra erg to hit the shift key and capitalize the B, and again, we will end up with ebook.

  • thebluebird11

    …and I apologize for the extra “l” at the end of “disposable” in my post above…I am working and my word-expander program is a bit of a mischief-making goblin at times…sorry…

  • Froogalmom

    I like email but e-book. Anything with a capital in it makes it sound either like a brand or something pretentious (to me!). I prefer “email” because I actually type that word a lot and its saves me a keystroke and “email” reflects what it is: a quick, simple way of communicating, no complicated rules, pretty forgiving. I prefer e-book however because in my mind, when I type e-book, I think “electronic book”… but I don’t think “electronic mail” when I type “email”. It makes no sense but there you have it 🙂

  • Chase March

    eBook looks like Apple invented it, it’s too much like iTunes for my taste.

    I think e-book is a much better fit. We don’t capitalize any of the letters in the work novel or book so adding an e and a hyphen seems like the best fit.

  • crows

    I agree with Brendan, and with thebluebird11. eBook follows the same kind of branding as iPod or iPhone; despite owning (and very much enjoying) both of the aforementioned products, seeing a lot of other marketing copy this model sort of makes me sneer inadvertently. It always strikes me as a cheap endeavor to make something look ‘slick’ and ‘high-tech’, and I’m not very fond of that kind of thing myself. It works for Apple; it’s their brand model, fine, whatever. But I don’t buy the subliminal message that starting a word with a lower-case letter and capitalizing the noun in it makes something automatically crowd to the cutting edge of my digital life. So, too, do I think ‘e-book’ will evolve easily into ‘ebook’ per ’email’, if we want to stress correct I’d trust the Oxford (I usually do) and include the hyphen until someone tells me otherwise. I certainly feel that this is how the editor of the trade magazine I write for sometimes would want me to think were I to encounter the issue in material I was writing for her.

  • Brad K.

    @ Brendan,

    eBook to me looks more like an eBay copy. I have negative associations with eBay.

    @ thebluebird11,

    It seems to me that the initial use was a combination word, and electronic mail became an e-mail. This was corrupted into a new word, email. An email was something unrelated to snail mail, filled a different use and purpose, and most of the people using email were uninvolved in the developing technology that defined the jargon landscape for the . . . geeks.

  • Emma

    The other problem that arises is when you’re using tagging – I find that I’ve got things tagged e-Learning, eLearning, e learning & elearning.
    I’ve used them all myself – and though most tagging systems realise eLearning & elearning are the same, it’s only humans that realise the other 2 are also the same.

    It’s just the same as the eBook dilemma. I have to say I tend to use the eBook variety – though I’d not thought of the Mac connection, nor the eBay one that some people have pointed out. (And never quite know what to do at the start of a sentence!)
    So, perhaps I ought to move to ebook – ugly though it seems to me.

  • thebluebird11

    Somehow, seeing the word “ebook” (i.e. without the hyphen) makes me think of some animals…ibex, wookie, springbok…ebook…
    I can’t say that “e-mail” was a “combination” word (a la Brad’s post); yes, the “e” was short for “electronic,” and also served to distinguish that sort of mail from “snail” mail (regular paper-and-envelope) and “v-mail” (formerly known as voice mail, or voicemail). I must say I haven’t seen the construction “vmail” yet; it looks unpronounceable and seems to require a hyphen. There are “books on tape,” but these have never been called V-books (or v-books, vbooks, vBooks, whatever). Hmmm. I suppose that when Apple gets on the bandwagon with all this (if it hasn’t already) we will have iBooks, iMail…the skI is the iLimit.

  • Brad K.

    @Emma, “So, perhaps I ought to move to ebook ”

    My recommendation is to continue with what makes sense to you. Just be sensitive to what those you communicate with are using.

    It won’t be until people not involved with the origin of e-books get used to some colloquialism, that a general use, generally agreed upon form will emerge. We can lament language drift, but when millions of English speakers mostly agree that one word means some particular thing, or another term is spelled or used in some particular fashion . . .

    It will be easier, then, to adopt whatever emerges than to try to correct the (mostly insensitive) crowds.

    I am still not sure whether the initial post on a blog is an entry, an article, a post, a posting, or a message. I am unsure whether the content of an individual post determines the label, or whether the concept of the blog does – or whether the term is coined individually for each weblog system provider. Then is a comment a comment, a post, an entry, a reply, or does that descriptor, too, depend upon content or system?

    Besides. The onus is on the speaker or writer to use language that the audience will hear and understand; the listener or reader can do nothing to change the communication so they can understand it, only the author or speaker has that latitude.

    For those interested in the underlying fundamentals, the history, derivation, and “proper” usage of words and phrases make interesting discussion for a mostly attentive and adaptive audience.

  • Peter

    AFAIC, it’s email, and thus ebook. eBook doesn’t work because (a) stUdDlYcaPs, (b) book isn’t capitalized in normal use. E-book, like e-mail, is CluelessNewbieSpelling; “email” is what people who were using it before 1995 (when Windows users started infesting the internet in large numbers) call it (contrary to everyone above saying “e-mail morphed into email”, it’s the other way around)

    (I suppose the real answer is: do you pronounce it [ˈi:bʊk] or [ˌi:(.)bˈʊk] — if the former, spell it “ebook”; if the latter, spell it “e-book”)

  • Iza

    Our university’s writing style guide recommends the following spelling: e-book, e-commerce, e-journal, e-learning, e-resources and email (not that everyone pays attention to it… 🙂

  • Lizabeth

    I think it’s going to go the same way as e-mail… It will start off as “e-book” and will be a hyphenated word until everyone gets used to it and knows what it means… then we’ll get lazy and drop the hyphen! I’m seeing “email” more and more often, and I’ve started to drop the hyphen myself. Technically, I agree… it should remain hyphenated.

  • Janice

    Thanks for looking it up in the different sources, and for pointing out the online search ramifications of the different spellings. All helpful!

  • Peter

    Lizabeth: as I pointed out above, it started off as “email”. “e-mail” came later, used by clueless newbies — nothing to do with “get[ting] lazy and drop[ping] the hyphen”.

  • sampath

    I hope its ok to say e-book or ebook because use know the both meaning.

  • Karen

    I for one, agree that eBook looks much better.

    However, I would also have to concur that it truly is a relatively new word; and, time will tell what become “officially” correct. 🙂

    ~Karen

  • Neo

    I have got the ebook link but it does not download.

  • Felipe Desiyatnikov

    Hey there! This is kind of off topic but I need some guidance from an established blog. Is it very hard to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty fast. I’m thinking about setting up my own but I’m not sure where to start. Do you have any tips or suggestions? Thanks

  • John Parsons

    The “eBook” spelling does have a nice feel to it — probably due to our conditioned emotional response to Apple branding. It gets weird at the beginning of sentences like, “EBook reading is on the rise,” so I stick with “e-book” for most of my work — for now.

    One of the problems with the hyphen is typographical. Unless you deliberately use a non-breaking hyphen, there will be numerous occurrences “e-” at the end of a line, which some people find distracting and/or annoying.

    In my opinion, the vestigial hyphen will disappear in the near future, leaving us with “ebook,” which can be capitalized without shame at the beginning of sentences. Such an evolution has many parallels in our rather peculiar language.

    Next up: What about “e-reader” (the device OR a person who reads e-books) and “e-reading” (the behavior)? I also believe that writers will flirt with trendiness (“eReader” and maybe “eReading”) but will eventually slide into hyphen-less (hyphenless?) simplicity.

  • Joy Livingwell

    There’s another issue: searchability.

    A no-hyphen term such as email is easy to search, whether in search engines or your word processing program. You always get what you expect. A hyphenated word such as e-publishing may search for “e-publishing” or it might search for “e” and “publishing” separately. Not so good. So for usability reasons, ebook is superior to e-book.

    Also, I agree that all the e-somethings are going to lose their hyphens just as email has.

    As of today (29 January 2014), a Google search for “ebook” yields 118,000,000 results; a search for “e-book” yields 956,000,000 results — 8 times as many. But “ebooks” yields 107,000,000 results, whereas “e-books” only yields 30,000,000 — 1/3 as many.

    I had not thought of testing the various spellings of ebook in Google AdWords, but it’s a great idea. And I suspect that as years have past, the results might be considerably different now.

  • Dan

    “ebook” has become a separate noun from “book”, with obvious differences in meaning… and there aren’t many nouns with odd capitalization or hyphenation like eBook or e-book.

    So as far as we keep calling the digital version something different from the dead tree version, it’s bound to end up as the simple “ebook” instead of some kind of Kwik-E-Mart non-word.

  • Ruth

    As I recall, the first time I ever saw the word used, it was spelled eBook. Putting a *lower case* e before the word book made it instantly recognizable as something “electronic.” The reason, I imagine, for capitalizing the *b* in book was to emphasize (call attention to) the lowercase e.

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