English is a complex language. You’ll become aware of this more and more as you encounter nearly identical terms with slightly different meanings. Case in point: “walkthrough,” “walk-through,” and the ever-mysterious “walk through.”
Most American dictionaries only list “walk-through,” while the British Cambridge Dictionary recognizes “walkthrough” as an alternative spelling when functioning as a noun or adjective. As a verb, “walk through” can mean to walk from one end to the other of something literally, or it can be a phrasal verb.
Keep reading, and you’ll be talking about compound words in your sleep. Plus, you’ll never need to stress about choosing between “walkthrough,” “walk-through,” or “walk through” again.
The Variants of “Walk-Through”
If you search “walkthrough” on popular dictionary websites, the results will be similar. Dictionary.com, Merriam-Webster, and the Cambridge Dictionary will all redirect you to the hyphenated form “walk-through.”
Merriam-Webster, Collins Dictionary, and Lexico also have entries referring specifically to “walk through,” but that functions as a phrasal verb. In contrast, the compound word “walk-through” is a noun and occasionally an adjective.
Is It Walkthrough or Walk-Through?
With those results in mind, we can conclude the correct form will usually be “walk-through.” Only the Cambridge Dictionary lists “walkthrough” as interchangeable with “walk-through.”
However, you will often see “walkthrough” in the video game industry with a similar meaning. This means there is still a place in writing for “walkthrough” in British English and the gaming industry.
Over time, Merriam-Webster may adopt “walkthrough” as a closed compound word. Until then, for most formal writing situations in American English, “walk-through” is the best choice.
This compound combines the verb “walk” with the preposition “through.” The compound uses the general sense of “walk” as moving, and it uses “through” either in the sense of going through a familiar activity or to guide someone step by step.
Writing Walk-Through as a Noun
Both “walkthrough” and “walk-through” can be nouns (things). In theater and television, a “walk-through” refers to a performance completed before the final filmed or staged performance.
“Walk-throughs” check whether the lighting, acting, script, and positioning are good enough. Here are a couple of examples:
- Let’s do a quick walk-through before lunch,” the drama teacher requested.
- She calmed down when the walk-through went off without a hitch.
Walk-throughs can also take place in other fields, such as in education and the food industry related to inspections:
- He encouraged me to do a walk-through of my new classroom before I accepted.
- The safety inspectors did a walk-through of the restaurant before it opened.
At times, we might also use “walk-through” to refer to a video game strategy guide or a document outlining software. However, this situation is unique, as you more often find the word “walkthrough” in this context.
Chances are, if you’re a gamer, you’ve found yourself looking for a walkthrough at some point in your life on IGN or YouTube. Take a look at these sentences:
She would never have finished the game without a walkthrough.
The software was essentially useless without a walkthrough and a competent engineer.
He would never have reached the end of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney without a walkthrough.
However, for most other contexts, the term “walkthrough” is informal. So if you’re writing a formal text in American English that isn’t for a gaming audience, you’re better off using the word “walk-through” even with this definition.
Writing Walk-Through as an Adjective
The word “walk-through” can also function as an adjective — something that typically describes a noun. Here, it essentially refers to a structure or building that you can enter from either end.
- The walk-through aquarium totally blew my mind!
- I hung up my painting in the walk-through gallery.
- There was a walk-through scanner at the airport.
In the first sentence, the aquarium type is a “walk-through” aquarium, meaning you generally enter and, quite literally, walk through it.
In the second, the gallery is similar — it is a walk-through style gallery, where viewers have the opportunity to stroll and look at paintings.
In the third, someone might refer to the arch-shaped machinery used to scan people as a “walk-through” scanner because you enter it on one side and leave it on the other side.
Review: Walkthrough Hyphen?
In review, the words “walkthrough” and “walk-through” are essentially interchangeable in British English, at least according to the Cambridge Dictionary. Most other dictionaries, especially Merriam-Webster, have yet to do the same and still include the hyphen.
You’ll need to consider who you’re writing for and which version they are likely to accept. For informal English, on the other hand, we often rely on what is most common rather than what is technically correct.
Which Spelling Is Used More Often?
Try googling “walkthrough” and “walk-through.” If you do this, you’ll see that “walkthrough” has far more results.
This is because many use the compound word “walkthrough” most frequently when referring to video games and software — something most internet users have some relation to.
Therefore, to know which form you should use, you can simply ask yourself the following three questions:
- Are you looking for a verb?
If it’s a verb, you’ll need to use “walk through.”
- Is the compound word you are looking for a noun or an adjective?
If it’s an adjective, it has to be “walk-through”; if it’s a noun, move on to question three.
- Are you using the compound in a formal or an informal text?
A formal text in American English will favor “walk-through”; in an informal text or when writing for the gaming industry, you may want to use the noun “walkthrough” when referring to software or games.
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Is Walk-Through or Walkthrough Grammatically Correct?
Both words are grammatically correct; just remember which part of speech you’re trying to use it as and follow the related grammatical rules. For example:
“Walk-through” is a single, countable noun. This means that when you use it, you must attach an article. Articles are words attached to a noun that makes it specific or non-specific.
In English, there are three articles: the definitive “the” and the indefinite “a” or “an.”
The noun “walkthrough” must have “a” or “the” somewhere before it when you use it as a noun or adjective.
- Walk-through tunnel was quite dark.❌
- The Skyrim walkthrough made playing the game a far less frustrating experience.✔️
- I can provide a walk-through of all the site’s features.✔️
What Is the Meaning of the Phrase “Walk Through”?
Remember, the word “walk-through” (and each related term) is a combination of the verb “walk” and the preposition “through.” “Walk through,” with a space between each word, can function as one of two things:
- A phrasal verb.
- A conventional verb.
Phrasal Verb Walk Through
A phrasal verb is a verb attached to a preposition or adverb that conveys a different (idiomatic) meaning compared with how the verb functions conventionally (source). Phrasal verbs are distinct from compound nouns or adjectives and always have a space between the words. Consider the following:
Phrasal verb: I put down his work because I was jealous.
Conventional verb: I put down my cup as soon as I finished drinking.
The phrasal verb “put down” refers to disparaging or insulting something. Therefore, the meaning is quite different from the literal use.
The literal expression “put down” refers to letting go of something and leaving it on a surface below you.
The phrasal verb “walk through” is also idiomatic. We use “walk through” when we’re referring to the action of walking someone through a process.
- Let’s walk through the play once more before we go home!
- Let me walk you through how this works.
- The book walked me through a century of American history.
Literal Usage of Walk Through
“Walk through” is also the verb “walk” followed by the adverb or preposition “through,” and we can use it very literally. To walk through something literally is to walk from one side of something to the other.
- I took a walk through the garden.
- He reminded her not to walk through the grass.
- I swear, I would walk through fire for him.
So we should never use the verb forms of “walk through” as compound words. Doing so will confuse your reader, as in the following examples:
- I took a walkthrough the garden.❌
- He reminded her not to walk-through the grass.❌
- Let’s walk-through the play once more before we go home!❌
To correct these sentences and communicate your intended meaning correctly, you’ll need to write each word separately. You’ll also need to understand whether you’re using the term literally or figuratively.
Understanding Compound Words
Compound words are ideas or concepts created by combining two or more words together (source). These words are typically adjectives or nouns, and compound words usually take the form of one or two words, either hyphenated, with a space, or closed.
When you join two words to create a compound word, the result is a related and, at times, new concept.
Take, for example, the compound word “bus stop.” A bus is a form of transportation, while “to stop” means to cease movement. Therefore, a bus stop is where the bus halts to pick up passengers.
If you wish to use a compound word, it’s always best to consult a dictionary to ensure that you have the correct spelling. However, if that isn’t an option or the answer is uncertain, try to make sure that the way you write compound words is at minimum consistent throughout your text (source).
When compounds have a space, grammarians refer to them as open compounds. Open compounds are always two words or more, each word separated by a space. Common examples include:
- Full moon
- Real estate
However, open compounds do have a risk of confusing your reader. The New York Public Libraries Writers’ Guide gives as an example “The old furniture salesman.”
The diction is easy enough, but it raises the question: is the compound word “old furniture” or “furniture salesman”? That’s why it’s often better to use a hyphenated compound.
If you write “The old-furniture salesman,” you know you’re talking about a person who sells old furniture. If you write “The old furniture-salesman,” this indicates that you’re referring to an elderly man (or an experienced seller) who is selling furniture.
Compound words often transform over time. Typically, the first form is an open compound.
The secondary form of compound words includes hyphenated compounds — compound words connected by a hyphen. The hyphen (-) is a punctuation mark with the primary purpose of joining compound words. Otherwise, we use it only occasionally to separate syllables (source).
Hyphenated compounds can consist of two or three words, such as the examples you’ll see below:
You can find a pattern where hyphens are necessary. Hyphens always come after a prefix (pre-, post-, etc.), a single letter (x-ray, t-shirt, e-cigarette, etc.), and when numbers appear before a noun within a compound word (15-hour, 3-day weekend, and 12-year project).
When compound words take the form of adjectives, we usually hyphenate them (source). However, when the same words appear after a noun, we usually don’t hyphenate them.
- The chocolate-covered nougat bars are my favorite.
- She had never tried the nougat that was chocolate covered.
For more on using hyphens, make sure you read our article, “High Quality or High-Quality: Understanding When to Use a Hyphen.”
Closed compounds have neither a space nor a hyphen. Common examples of closed compound words include “grandmother,” “everything,” and “moonlight.”
Compound words generally begin as open compounds, become hyphenated, and then switch to closed compounds. Eventually, closed compounds gain acceptance in reputable dictionaries.
For example, “firefly” and “online” are compound words. People initially wrote these words with a space, “fire fly” and “on line.” But over time, most began to hyphenate them. Now, you’ll write each as “firefly” and “online.”
The most commonly used compounds are generally closed compounds. You are unlikely to ever come across a sentence referring to a “grand mother” or the “in side” of something.
However, it takes time for closed compounds to gain acceptance in formal writing. Therefore, when you’re writing, follow dictionaries or style guides.
Despite the popularity of the closed compound “walkthrough” in the gaming industry, most dictionaries only list “walk-through” for now.
Unlike most languages, English includes three different ways that you can write compound words. This can be a blessing and a curse when you come across terms such as “walk-through.” However, with a bit of effort and a trusty dictionary by your side, it doesn’t have to be so daunting.
It is quite easy to differentiate “walk-through” from other variants using minimal effort. Just ask yourself what part of speech it is, how formal you intend to be, and whether you are referring to a piece of software or a game, and you’ll know exactly what to do.