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Forever confusing: lifelong, life-long, life long

Here’s a Grammarset of words that have perplexed some writers their entire lives: lifelong vs. life-long vs. life long.

Most grammarists agree that lifelong – meaning lasting through one’s existence, as in a lifelong friendship – should be one word rather than two words or hyphenated.

Confusion over the spelling arises because punctuation rules say that compound words, when used as an adjective, usually require a hyphen, as in well-known man. “Usually” is the operative word here, as lifelong is an exception. The same applies to other “long” words that show a length of time, such as daylong, monthlong, weeklong and yearlong.

Life long is never correct. Typically compound words with a space consist of two nouns, such as ice cream.

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Thank you for this explanation. I have just one question for further clarification, however. You concluded this entry by stating that "life long" [two words] is never correct. I can conceive of the case in which I might say, "I have struggled with concept my whole life long." Is that a different construct and therefore follows a different set of rules? Thanks.

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Thank you for your comment, selfevident1. In the case of "I have struggled with the concept my whole life long," "long" is superfluous as "my whole life" means the same as "lifelong." I suppose you might use the sentence in dialogue, say for children, who often use such ungrammatical constructions.

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