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Long-Term or Long Term: Is It an Open, Hyphenated, or Closed Compound?

When someone uses “long term” or “long-term” while speaking, the words sound the same. Still, you’re confident you’ve seen this expression written both with and without the hyphen, so it’s not unusual to wonder, “Is it ‘long-term’ or ‘long term’?” And does that make a difference to the meaning of the word?

Both “long-term” and “long term” are correct in English in the proper context. It’s important to know that “long-term” is an adjective, while “long term” is a compound noun. This means that you can use the word “long-term” to modify a noun, while you should use “long term” as the subject or an object in a sentence. 

Here, we’ll cover some of the common misconceptions about the words “long-term” and “long term,” and we’ll explore the proper usages of these words. You’ll be using those hyphens and spaces correctly in no time!

Long-Term or Long Term

It’s not always clear whether you should use long-term or longterm, but you can choose the right one every time if you remember the parts of speech. Let’s take a look at the differences between these parts of speech so that you can use the correct spelling of “long term” every time.

“Long-Term” Is an Adjective

When you write the word “long-term” with a hyphen, it’s an adjective that means “occurring over or involving a relatively long period of time” (source).  This word is a hyphenated compound that uses a hyphen to connect the two words into one.

Check out these examples to see how you can use “long-term” as an adjective:

During the interview, I asked each candidate about his or her long-term plans for the future.

James finally achieved his long-term goal of completing his Ph.D. at the age of 50.

Long-term investments usually make more money over time than short, sporadic investments.

In each of these examples, you can see that “long-term” is an adjective that modifies a noun, whether it’s the subject or an object of the sentence. The closed, hyphenated compound “long-term” is always an adjective, so if you use “long-term” with a hyphen, it should come close to a noun that it is modifying. 

We often use the adjective “long-term” to describe goals or plans. For more information about long-term academic goals, you can check out the article “How to Set and Follow Through on Academic Goals; Examples for Success.”

“Long Term” Is a Noun

When you write “long term” with a space instead of a hyphen, it is an open compound noun originating from an adjective (“long”) followed by a noun (“term”). “Long term” refers to “a long period of time after the beginning of something” (source). This word is an open compound because it includes a space and not a hyphen.

Have a look at these examples to see how you can use the adjective + noun “long term” as either the subject or object in a sentence.

During the interview, I asked each candidate, “What are your plans for the long term?”

James knew that he would eventually achieve his goal in the long term, but it would take perseverance and a positive attitude.

Investing over the long term is the most effective way to grow your money over time.

From these examples, you can see how “long term” is a noun that is usually the object of a preposition. Of course, “long term” can also be the subject of a sentence. However, its most popular place is as the object of a preposition.

Is Long Term One Word or Two?

There is no way to spell the word “longterm” without a hyphen or a space between the two words. That is to say, “longterm” isn’t a word in English; it’s not a noun or an adjective. It simply doesn’t exist in the English language. 

For more examples of commonly confused compounds, check out the article “Which Is Correct: Barefoot or Barefeet?

Long Term Usage

When you’re using the compound noun “long term,” there are some common rules for usage. Most notably, you should usually use an article and/or a preposition when using the open compound “long term” in a sentence. Let’s take a deeper look at these usage rules.

The Definite Article with “Long Term”

The phrase “long term” refers to a very abstract concept that has some room for subjectivity. But despite this ambiguity, “long term” almost always comes with the definite article “the.” So, even though “the long term” can refer to a subjective or changeable length of time, we still use “the” with this structure. 

The definite article “the” shows that we are talking about a specific time frame; this specificity is what requires the definite article (source). Because of this, it’s very rare to see the open compound “long term” without “the” in front of it.

Scroll up a few paragraphs and take another look at our examples of “long term.” Did you notice how all of those examples include “the” right before “long term”? That’s because “long term” technically refers to a definite amount of time, even though the adjective “long” is subjective and open to interpretation. 

So, if you’re wondering how to spell “long term,” you can use this trick: if the sentence features the definite article “the” right before “long” and there is no noun after “term,” it should be the open compound “long term.”

Image by baluda via Pixabay

Prepositions with “Long Term”

Again, because “the long term” refers to a period of time, it often comes with a preposition before it. Some of the most common prepositions that you’ll see with “the long term” are the prepositions of time, including “in,” “during,” “throughout,” “from,” and “to” (source).

So, in addition to the definite article “the,” “long term” also has a preposition in most cases. Have a look at these examples again, and pay special attention to the prepositions that come with “the long term.”

During the interview, I asked each candidate, “What are your plans for the long term?”FOR: This preposition shows that the plans belong to and will occur within a long period of time that starts now and continues several years into the future.
James knew that he would eventually achieve his goal in the long term, but it would take perseverance and a positive attitude.IN: This preposition shows that James expects to accomplish his goal within a certain time frame. He expects his work will continue several years into the future until it ends with the achievement of his goal.
Investing over the long term is the most effective way to grow your money over time.OVER: This preposition shows that the investment will happen throughout a prolonged period. Because this is a general statement of fact, that period can start at any point; it doesn’t necessarily start right now.

As this table demonstrates, you can use these prepositions of time in more or less the same way you’d use them with other time expressions.

While the nuances of these different prepositions are slightly different, having a preposition before “the long term” is more important than having exactly the right preposition. 

Long Term Spelling FAQs

When it comes to spelling “long term,” the most frequent mistake involves the hyphen. Sometimes you have to spell it “long-term,” while other times you need a space, and it becomes “long term.”

When you’re spelling “long term,” the important thing to remember is the part of speech you require.

If you’re using “long term” as the subject or object of a sentence, you should spell it with a space. If you’re using “long-term” as an adjective to modify or describe a noun, you need to spell it with a hyphen and make it a hyphenated compound.

Does a Hyphen Always Make an Adjective?

Using a hyphen between two or more words creates a hyphenated compound, which means that you take two or more words and combine them into one single word. 

It can be tempting to look at the example of the adjective “long-term” and assume that all hyphenated closed compounds are adjectives. However, that’s not always the case.

For example, look at these sentences with hyphenated words:

The decision was a total no-brainer; I didn’t have to think before I made a choice. 

The jury determined that the woman acted in her own self-defense, so she was found not guilty.

Some major by-products of industrialization include air pollution, urbanization, and a general decrease in the urban standard of living. 

In the first example, the word “no-brainer” is the object of the sentence. In the second example, the word “self-defense” is the object of the preposition “in.” And in the third example, the word “by-products” is the subject of the sentence. 

So, you can see that a hyphen doesn’t necessarily mean that the word is an adjective. Rather, in all three of these examples, the hyphenated word is a noun.

How Do I Use a Hyphen?

A hyphen is a punctuation mark that joins two words together to make one word. We refer to words that we form by joining two or more words together compound words, or simply “compounds.”

English has open, closed, and hyphenated compounds. Compounds are usually adjectives or nouns, although sometimes writers combine whole phrases with hyphens and use them collectively as an adverb.

Parts of Speech Matter

Let’s take a look at a few hyphenated compounds and examine the part of speech and usage in each example. 

Marco’s short-term financial plans included saving up for a vacation next summer and paying off his car by the end of next year.

In this example, the hyphenated compound is an adjective. Here, “short-term” modifies or describes Marco’s financial plans. Thus, this adjective shows the reader that his plans will be completed relatively soon, in the short term. 

With that hyphenated adjective, you can express the idea of “in the short term” with one single word.

The pilot announced that the plane was prepared for take-off.

Here, the hyphenated compound “take-off” is a noun; it is the object of the preposition in this sentence. 

This expression is an interesting noun because it is the hyphenated version of a phrasal verb. The hyphenated form of the phrasal verb becomes a noun that describes the whole action, process, or situation related to that phrasal verb. The hyphenated form is actually British English, while American English recognizes this as a closed compound, “takeoff.”

The most well-dressed person in the room was the host of the party. Her outfit cost more than a thousand dollars!

In this final example, you can see how one adverb (“well”) and one past participle (“dressed”) come together to make one adjective. This is a popular way to make an adjective to use right in front of a noun, especially if you want to emphasize the verb that makes up the past participle in the hyphenated adjective.

From these examples, you can see the many different ways to use hyphenated compounds throughout a sentence. For instance, hyphenated compounds can be nouns or adjectives, and you can use nouns, participles, adverbs, and adjectives to build a hyphenated compound.

Clock, Street, Morning, Time, Watch, Road, Asphalt
Image by Ruwadium via Pixabay

Is “Long Term” One Word or Two?

Whether “long term” is one word or two really depends on the form of the phrase that you’re using. So, in some cases, it’s one word, and in others, it’s two words.

If you’re using the hyphenated version of the word “long-term,” then you’re using an adjective. This is one word, and most word processing systems count this as one word. 

For example, the sentence “Jane started executing her long-term career plan as soon as she graduated from college” has 14 words because “long-term” counts as one word.

However, if you’re using the version of the word with a space instead of a hyphen (“long term”), you’re using an open compound. This article was written for

Word processors count this structure as two words, even though it acts as one subject or object in a sentence. For example, the sentence “Jane will work on her career goals for the long term” has 11 words because “long term” counts as two words.

Final Thoughts

Even though “long-term” and “long term” sound exactly the same when you say them out loud, they have different uses in English. The word “long-term” is an adjective that you can use to modify or explain a noun. On the other hand, the phrase “long term,” originating from an adjective with a noun, is a compound noun, so you should use it as the subject or object of a sentence.