To Follow Up on Follow-Up

One of the most common questions in any of our classes is this:

When is the phrase follow up hyphenated?

One of the reasons this punctuation question is so commonly asked is that many dictionaries are no help at all. They simply list both versions: follow-up and follow up.

I am happy to offer a way to determine whether the hyphen is required. Here’s how:

If you can use the word the directly in front of the words follow up, they need a hyphen. Examples:

Please give Assan the follow-up test.
Have you sent the follow-up to Marty?
Make a follow-up call tomorrow. [You could replace a with the.]

In contrast, the sentences below would not work with the word the inserted before follow up:

Please follow up with Assan by giving him the test.
Did you follow up with Marty?
Follow up by phone tomorrow.

That’s all there is to it! If you use the method above, you will always know whether follow-up or follow up is correct.

Stop reading now if just knowing the "trick" is enough for you. However, if you would like to know the reason it works, along with the rules, read on.

When follow up is a verb, it has no hyphen. Since we never use the before verbs (the belongs before nouns and adjective-noun phrases), if you cannot insert the before follow up, you know the phrase is a verb. Verb = no hyphen.

When follow up is a noun or an adjective, it does need a hyphen. Examples:

Noun: They lost interest during follow-up.
Adjective:  The follow-up phase dragged on too long.

Since you can easily insert the before a noun or an adjective, inserting the (if it isn’t there already), tells you that your phrase needs a hyphen.

Test Yourself: Hyphen or No Hyphen?

  1. Please give me a follow up call next week.
  2. The follow up report is almost ready.
  3. Call Amy to follow up about the invoices.
  4. Omar will follow up on Friday.
  5. I enjoy implementation but not follow up or maintenance.

Could you recognize which sentences needed hyphens?

Answers: Hyphens in 1, 2, and 5. No hyphens in 3 and 4.

Follow up if you have a follow-up comment or question! If you are in the Seattle area (or nearby states or provinces), take our workshop The Keys to Error-Free Writing for more helpful strategies and guidance on punctuation, grammar, and usage.

Lynn
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Other search spellings: punctatuion, foloow, grammer

72 COMMENTS

  1. Incredibly helpful! Thank you for writing the explanation in such basic terminology that practically anyone can understand it!

  2. You have cleared views regarding follow-up and follow up, but how about one word followup? Please explain.

  3. Hi, Pradeep. I have not seen “followup” as one word in any style guides. However, the trend is to close up some hyphenated words after they become commonly recognized and understood. For example, “microwave” was originally “micro-wave,” and “e-mail” is moving toward “email.”

    The noun “followup” is probably appearing, but it is not yet in any style guides on my shelf. I would avoid it, since it may confuse readers who wonder what a “wup” is.

    Lynn

  4. Hi, Lynn. What about communications that begin with the prhase, “This is in follow up to…?” I can’t correctly place “the” before follow up, so it would seem that no hyphen should be used. On the other hand, I could replace “in” with “a,” suggesting that follow-up is a noun or adjective and is, thus, unhyphenated.

  5. So, in this case:
    “Barry’s highly anticipated follow up to 2009’s smash hit will be released soon.” the hyphen is NOT needed? It feels like it needs a hyphen.

  6. Hi Lynn. Could you help to clarify when,where and why “Apostrophe” to be used in sentences like “She should follow up in a month’s time or she should follow up in 3 months’ time”. What are the guidelines?

  7. This has been very helpful. We write a report an we call it “The Audit Follow-up Report”

    My question is, should “Up” be capitalized? Follow-Up or Follow-up?

    Kind regards,
    Amar

  8. In medical transcription they have omitted follow-up and use it as one word followup but the rules apply as if you use follow-up.

  9. Thanks very much Lyn for your explanations. I’d like to know if I should say follow up to or follow up on something.
    Thanks, Adjoa

  10. Hi, Adjoa. Typically the correct expression is “follow up on.”

    Examples:
    I want to follow up on what we discussed.
    Did you follow up on Dina’s request?

    There are circumstances in which “follow up to” is more suitable. Here is an example:
    Will there be any follow-up to the training program?

    I hope those examples help you.

    Lynn

  11. Hello,
    I am a court reporter and have this phrase come up almost everyday.
    1- They recommend follow up visits.
    2- I had follow ups.

    Should these “follow up” phrases be hyphenated?
    Thank You

  12. I’m a medical transcriptionist.

    Follow-up = adjective, as in “follow-up care.”

    Follow up = verb, as in “will follow up tomorrow.”

    Followup = noun, as in “will be seen in followup.”

    Unfortunately, even most medical transcriptionists get it wrong. 🙂

  13. Lynn, I am so glad that I stumbled upon your blog, I appreciate your help and knowledge. I was wondering if this rule applies to the word “pick up”. I’m not sure if it is suppose to be one word, two words, or a hyphenated phrase.
    Thanks again!
    – Sandy

  14. Hi, Sandy. The rendering of your word depends on how you will use it.

    Pick-up. A noun describing a person or thing picked up or increasing:

    “We are pleased about the pick-up in business.”

    “I have a pick-up to make downtown before I end my shift.”

    Pick up. A verb:

    “We are pleased that our business has picked up.”

    “I have to pick up a passenger downtown before I end my shift.”

    Pickup. An adjective meaning “informally organized”:

    “He likes to participate in basketball pickup games.”

    Sandy, if your budget includes money for a current dictionary, I recommend getting one. It will answer many of your questions. If you live in the U.S., I recommend “Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary” and “The American Heritage College Dictionary.”

    If you live in Canada, I recommend “Canadian Oxford Dictionary.”

    Reference books will not necessarily agree on the rendering of your word or other words. I just checked my “Canadian Oxford Dictionary” and found “pickup” for the noun version. Nevertheless, a current dictionary will guide you in your choices.

    Lynn

  15. In my experience, the hyphenated form should be reserved for use of the term as an adjective, but not a noun.

  16. Thank you for the article. I just used it to change my incorrect “a follow up bet” to “a follow-up bet” in my own article. I had a feeling something was wrong, but obviously spell check wasn’t helping.

  17. Helpful. Used this to update our internal style guide after my journalism background staff got into a scuffle with my marketing background staff. Fortunately, that’s about as dangerous as a Nerf battle.

  18. Hi lynn i have just been given the post of customer growth and retention manager with an sms company and as for now the most important is phone call follow up,how should i start that call and what words should i use thanks Vivian

  19. What about this sentence. Does useage of Follow up need a hyphen? To me it appears as a noun in this sentence, but (the) does not fit in front of it.

    “This column should be listed as OK if no follow up error is determined”

  20. Hi, Glenna. Your “follow-up” is an adjective and needs a hyphen.

    You can put “the” in front of it:
    “This column should be listed as OK if the follow-up error is determined.”

    Yes, “the” changes the meaning of your sentence, but it does work in that construction.

    Lynn

  21. This is a good post, but it is not entirely accurate. For example, the subject of an email might be “Follow-up to our October meeting.” Here, follow-up functions as a noun, but placing “the” in front of follow-up would be awkward (“The follow-up to our October meeting”) and perhaps inaccurate. It is not the case, then, that “if you cannot insert the before follow up, you know the phrase is a verb.”

  22. Hi, Doug. You may choose not to place “the” in front of your subject, but you could. It might be slightly awkward, but there’s really nothing wrong with it. That’s why you know the phrase needs a hyphen.

    In contrast, if your subject were “Please Follow Up on Our October Meeting,” “the” would make no sense before “follow up.” That’s how you know the hyphen would be wrong there.

    Thanks for the interesting example.

    Lynn

  23. Hi, Lynn. Your simple explanation and examples make this page very helpful.

    Thank you for this.

    Leo

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