Midcentury vs. mid-century vs. mid century

hyphenate mid century Calling all grammarians and spelling bee champions:

What is the correct spelling — or are there correct spellings:
Is it:
“Midcentury” … “mid-century” … or “mid century”?

As in (1): “midcentury modern sofa”, “mid-century modest house” or “mid century American history”. And would it change as in: (2) “in midcentury/mid-century/mid century America”.


how do you spell mid century

Golly, over the past six+ years, we’ve spelled it every which way. Hey: Covering all our bases and google keywords, too, I guess. However, my Meade County High School English teacher Ivy B. Hawkins — a fantastic teacher who made us diagram sentences until we could do it in our sleep — would not be amused by this lax just get it onto the www who cares about spelling anymore 21st Century (21st-Century? 21st-century?) attitude of mine.

So which is it?

Finally, what exact parts of speech do you call the word/compound, in each usage? Ack! My brain explodes! As you respond, can you also provide your citations – add hotlink in your comment. Thank you!

Get our retrolicious free newsletter.



  1. Patty says

    Assiciated Press Stylebook, 2007 edition says no hyphen after mid unless the next word is capitalized or is a figure. Examples given include mid-America, midterm, or mid-30s.


  2. JanetCinNC says

    I think it depends on how you’re using it. If it’s being used as a noun, it would be “mid century.” If you are using it as a compound-word adjective, it would be “mid-century.” For example: “In the mid century, it was just a house. To us today, it’s a mid-century modest house.”

  3. chuck sullivan says

    “Mid” is not a word, it is a prefix and it is never appropriate to separate a prefix or suffix from the root word, “century” in this case, with a hyphen. Therefore, the ONLY appropriate spelling for this word is “midcentury.”

  4. says

    I’m in the ‘midcentury’ camp (hmmm, in more ways than one, considering my own age, and that of my house!). But I’ve noticed when I do a search on a site like Craigslist I get twice as many hits with the other two variants. Which leads me to think that twice as many people don’t know what is correct and that we need to educate them!

  5. linda h says

    When Atomic Ranch magazine addressed this issue, they were a little more concerned with popular usage than grammatical correctness. I hadn’t myself considered that there might be rules for using hyphens in the case of the word “midcentury”.

  6. Marcia says

    This seems to be one of those ambiguous subjects and a matter of personal preference.

    My Webster’s New College Dictionary (sorry no hotlink – it’s an older hardback) uses a hyphen and doesn’t capitalize “mid” in eras, such as “mid-Victorian”. This would indicate it would be mid-century.

    “Grammar Girl” says, “Some prefixes need hyphens, such as “re—,” “mid—,“ and “ex—.“ For example
    My ex-boyfriend took the movies I enjoyed.
    The mid-1990s were interesting.”

    Grammar Girl also says, “If leaving out the hyphen causes no ambiguity, some style guides, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, say it’s OK to leave it out .”


    I personally like the opening paragraph on wikipedia:
    Mid-Century modern is an architectural, interior, product and graphic design that generally describes mid-20th century developments in modern design, architecture and urban development from roughly 1933 to 1965. The term, employed as a style descriptor as early as the mid-1950s, was reaffirmed in 1983 by Cara Greenberg in the title of her book, Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s (Random House), celebrating the style that is now recognized by scholars and museums worldwide as a significant design movement.


    Mid-Century !!

    • pam kueber says

      For sure me no think that you’re supposed to capitalize century even if you use the hyphen, as in ‘mid-century’

  7. Jennifer says

    Stylebooks sure help, don’t they? To address why this is not obvious to everyone:
    Language is in a constant state of change. Compound words are a good example. They start out as two separate words and begin being used together more and more often, and as that usage becomes more common in oral language, written language adapts first with a hyphen, later with no hyphen. Although this isn’t a compound word, but rather a prefix and base word, this is almost certainly the same phenomenon going on (and mid-mod is a similar phenomenon, with the base word being shortened because of the appealing cadence that echoes the jauntiness of the style it is describing).

  8. Sandra says

    Is this for a craigslist ad? Because if it is, you should spell it “Midcentury,” “mid-century,” and “mid century,” all in the same ad. Craigslist will not find any variables; if you search for “brick” it won’t find “bricks.”

  9. Rudy says

    I sometimes use MidCentury. I like it that way! It’s all good…..a rose by any other name and all that….

  10. Mary Elizabeth says

    Finally, something on this site in which I am a “licensed professional”! (I have a degree in teaching, have studied historical linguistics, and have 27 years experience teaching English. I also have an MFA degree in poetry, which I call my “poetic license.”)

    1)To answer your question, the term “midcentury,” whether hyphenated or not, is an adjective. (Ex: a midcentury house, midcentury design, etc.)

    2) In English usage, compound words, historically, begin as two separate words. or open compounds (suit case, middle century, blue berry), then go through a hyphenated compound phase (suit-case, middle-century, blue-berry), then become one word without a hyphen, or closed compound (suitcase, blueberry, but not “middlecentury,” which is explained below). The way any given dictionary spells a compound is rather arbitrary, and is based on the dictionary publisher’s sense of where the word is in contemporary usage.

    3) The word “midcentury” is not a compound word but a root word (century) with a prefix (mid). Instead of going through the last stage of the compound process, the term “middle of the century” was replaced with the adjective “midcentury.”

    4) Patty is right that if the next word is capitalized or a figure, we do use a hyphen.

    5) Finally, style books (for publishers, press services and newspapers) exist because of an attempt to standardize spelling and usage issues, which are constantly evolving. For example, Chaucer spelled “flower” as “flour,” which was pronounced “floo-er.” Many people have given up on trying to spell because one electronic spell checker or dictionary disagrees with the next one we encounter.

    Besides midcentury, other perfectly good renovation compound words I have run across that are sometimes marked as misspelled on line include countertop, wallboard, sheetrock, and baseboard. So consider spelling not a question of right or wrong but as an evolving process that we are always trying to standardize. Hope this helps!

      • Mary Elizabeth says

        Aww, thanks Robin. You, too, can get a poetic license. You need to get a second mortgage on your “midcentury” house, or a scholarship, and apply to one of the MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in literature programs. :-)
        But I’m glad I did it, because otherwise I would never have had the nerve to submit my first book of poetry to a publisher.

    • pam kueber says

      Thank you. This is terrific! Questions:

      So even though these are clumsy sentences, admittedly, would you write, “I made a midsentence pause?


      “I made a midsection addition.”


      “There was a midgame timeout.”

      Those don’t look right to me…

      And, if midcentury was shortened from ‘middle of the century’, why do you call mid a prefix rather than recognizing the whole thing as a compound derived from ‘middle of the century’?

  11. Sandra says

    I write scripts, and if I were writing dialogue, I would spell it as it would be spoken. For example, “‘When did Rock Around the Clock’ hit number one?” “It happened mid-century.” In this case, there’s a pause where the hyphen is, as if to say “mid” century, not “late” century.

    If you want to say the style, then you would spell it “Midcentury Modern” where the first word is meant to be a single word.

  12. Kirsten says

    I work for National Geographic. This is our Style:

    A compound adjective should be hyphenated before a noun (unless the compound itself carries a modifier) but not following it unless subject to misreading or hyphenated in Webster’s as an adjective: a well-respected man; a very well respected man; a man well respected for his bravery; he is well respected for his bravery; quick-witted retort; the retort was quick-witted; a two-ton truck; a jet-pack-powered stroll; but an old stone wall (the stone wall is old).

    a. After an adverb that ends in -ly, do not hyphenate unless ambiguity results:
    nearly dead hopes, newly set aside parklands

    b. Some adverbs do not end in -ly. Of these, compound modifiers with the following are generally hyphenated before nouns: dead, long, near, and well (well-dressed man, near-dead hopes). Unless the meaning is ambiguous or a compound is hyphenated in Webster’s, do not hyphenate compound modifiers with almost, already, best, early, ever, last, late, less, more, most, much, never, not, now, once, only, seldom, sometimes, still, very, yet. See even. Consult Webster’s, especially for compounds with over and under.

    c. Compound modifiers containing cardinal numbers are hyphenated before nouns when the compound contains a unit of measurement or spelled out number:
    a two-dollar tie
    an eight-foot pole, but eight feet of pole
    a 13½-year-old; 11- to 14-year-old children; 11- and 14-year-olds; 11-through-14-year-olds
    an 11½-by-4½-foot box, but 11½ by 4½ feet
    a three-by-four-foot box, but three by four feet
    a 35-millimeter slide; 35-mm slide or 35mm slide
    a three-by-five card or a three-by-five
    a four-by-four or 4WD or FWD or 4×4 are all acceptable for a four-wheel-drive vehicle

    d. With more than one compound modifier distinguish between several possibilities and an inclusive range:
    Two- to three-day forecasts are now possible.
    A two-to-three-day forecast would help him plan.
    Snow will be in the 10-to-14-inch range.

    e. A compound with an ordinal, a comparative, or a superlative is not hyphenated except to prevent ambiguity or if in Webster’s:
    fifth largest city
    farthest reaching trade
    the best known person
    the first ever race

    second-growth timber
    third-ranked convention city
    best-selling novel
    faster than normal ship
    f. Do not hyphenate between capitalized words that are an entity, with certain exceptions. Hyphenate when required by Webster’s, after a prefix, or when the hyphen is necessary for sense. If one element in a compound modifier is itself a compound, an en dash may be used in place of a hyphen:

    Holy Week ceremonies
    New York skyline
    Latin American countries
    Los Angeles–oriented view
    South American countries

    Mexican-American ways
    French-Canadian restaurant

    proto-Aryan roots
    pre-Columbian vase
    color TV series
    third-century B.C. head

    New-York Historical Society
    Scotch-Irish descent
    g. Chemical terms used as adjectives are not hyphenated except if ambiguous and when used with the mass number: carbon dioxide test, but carbon-14 dating; iron-oxide red; strontium-90, strontium-90 fallout, Sr-90 fallout.

    h. Dates: A hyphen means up to and including when used between dates: November 15-21; 1941-45. When using from, do not use a hyphen but spell out to or through and give complete date: from 1941 through 1945. With hyphen use only the last two digits except where three zeros would come together or decades are different: 1962-65, 1900-1901, 1900-1910, 1949-1950, 1941-1963. Never use one digit alone in a date: 1947-49 not 1947-9.

    i. Foreign terms used as adjectives are not hyphenated:
    ex post facto laws, per capita income, status quo regime, but laissez-faire policy.

    j. A compound modifier in which the second word is possessive is not hyphenated:
    park ranger’s job, magazine researcher’s inquiry, but bird’s-eye view, snail’s-pace walk.

    k. A compound modifier within quotes is not hyphenated unless the compound is hyphenated in Webster’s:
    a “one man” attempt, “Azores high” cliffs, a “pigeon-toed” table.

    l. The punctuation can influence the meaning: red, white, and blue flags (solid-colored flags), red-white-and-blue flags (tricolors). Do not hyphenate compound color modifiers unless both elements are colors of equal value: blue-black sky, gray-green eyes, but bluish black sky, lemon yellow dress, jade green lake, cobalt blue dish, dark blue suit. To avoid ambiguity, note: light-blue suit (color), light blue suit (weight).

    Note the difference between an old-brick home and an old brick home, depending on whether the bricks or the home is old.

    m. Compound nouns appearing in Webster’s and widely used do not need to be hyphenated when used as adjectives unless ambiguous. For example: polar bear, sea turtle, foreign exchange, income tax, real estate, fossil fuel.

    n. Dual-heritage designations are not hyphenated as a noun: African American, Mexican American, French Canadian. Hyphenate, however, as a compound proper adjective: Polish-American influence, Japanese-American art, French-Canadian politicians.

    o. Use an en dash instead of a hyphen in a compound modifier when one or both of the elements is itself a compound: Civil War–era firearms, first-class–second-class rivalries. Sometimes it is clearer to hyphenate the entire term: cold–weather–related deaths, natural–gas–fired power plants.

    2. Compound Nouns and Verbs: Follow Webster’s when writing compound nouns and verbs. Nouns are likely to be hyphenated or written solid, verbs to be written as separate words: shutout (noun), shut out (verb); shut-in (noun), shut in (verb). As a general rule do not use hyphens in compound nouns containing turned and cum: village turned metropolis, gunsmith turned naturalist, editor cum nuisance.

    3. Syllabification: Follow Webster’s when breaking a word at the end of a line. Do not break a word from one column to another or from one page to another. Avoid breaking terms that are already hyphenated.

    4. Place-names with hyphens follow the style in the NG atlas, then the Board on Geographic Names. If the place-name is not in the atlas, omit hyphens both on page maps and in text except in French-Canadian and French names: Stratford upon Avon, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Trois-Rivières.

        • pam kueber says

          Okay, but Kirsten, using your NGeo guide, how would you spell it?

          midcentury modern couch
          mid-century modern couch
          mid century modern couch?

          • Kirsten says

            mid-century modern couch

            mid-century modifies.

            Think of it this way:
            The castle was built in the 16th century.
            It’s a 16th-century castle.

            • pam kueber says

              I see where you are taking this from your style guide now: “f. Do not hyphenate between capitalized words that are an entity, with certain exceptions. Hyphenate when required by Webster’s, after a prefix…” [emphasis mine]

              However, I disagree. Do you spell unhappy un-happy? Un- is a prefix, isn’t it? There are many many many words with prefixes that are not hyphenated, it appears: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prefix

              • Kirsten says

                For the Society, all established spellings come from Webster’s. All placenames are determined by out cartographic group. Exceptions of spelling and style are defaulted to our Style Guide within the rules of context.

                It all depends on how you are using the word. Is it a proper noun? An adjective? A modifier? My advice is to follow the usage rules for a modifier and establish your own spelling rule for the proper noun (as it’s not in the dictionary). The basic idea is to establish your own style. And then stick with it. 99% of a style guide’s purpose is to establish consistency.

  13. Robin, NV says

    On the same theme – if you’re referring to a period in history, no apostrophes people. As in 1950s, 1960s, 1500s NOT 1950’s, 1960’s, 1500’s. Unless it’s the possessive, then it’s ok. But that’s sort of awkward in its own way since you really shouldn’t anthropomorfize a period of time.

  14. says

    I’ve always gone with this rule: Adjectival compounds hyphenated before but not after a noun. (https://net.educause.edu/elements/attachments/educause/pdf/ch07_tab01.pdf)

    So, “mid-century furniture,” which also allows for “mid-eighteenth-century furniture.”

    However, popular usage is trending towards midcentury: http://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=mid-century%2C%20midcentury

    And most news outlets use midcentury now. As others have mentioned words evolve, often losing their hyphen. I think we’re currently in the age where mid-century is becoming midcentury. However, I don’t think mid century is ever correct. (Plus, Google and most searches see hyphens as spaces so in Google’s mind mid-century and mid century are the same keyword.)

  15. April says

    I’m a professional copy editor, and both Chicago Manual of Style (7.85) and AP Stylebook call for the term to be closed (“midcentury”). “Mid” should be hyphenated only when it precedes a capitalized word (e.g., “mid-March”), a figure (e.g., “mid-1950s”), or a compound (e.g., “mid-twentieth century”). (Note, too, that “mid-twentieth century” as a noun contains one hyphen; as an adjective preceding a noun [e.g., “mid-twentieth-century style”], it contains two.)

    But I agree with what previous posters have said about Craigslist: when I’m doing online searches or posting things for sale, I use all three forms!

    • pam kueber says

      Thanks, April, I am reading all these and leaning toward accepting Chicago and AP style. Cuz I’m a journalist.

      So would you write, “I made a midsentence pause?


      “I made a midsection addition.”


      “There was a midgame timeout.”

      Those don’t look right to me…

      • Mary Elizabeth says

        Just look in the latest edition of your preferred dictionary (mine is the Webster’s Collegiate) to see which words are accepted as unhyphenated. Of your examples, only midsection (which is a noun, not an adjective) is in my dictionary as an unhyphenated word.

        My opinion is that the sentences below are spelled as they should be:

        He interrupted me mid sentence. He interrupted me in the middle of my sentence. It was a mid-sentence interruption.

        There was a delay mid game. There was a delay in the middle of the game. It was a mid-game delay.

        Again, if the word was a compound adjective, not a root word with a prefix, it would be middle-century, not midcentury.

        Again, different dictionaries and different style manuals (such as the National Geographic one mentioned in this stream) will have different rules and spellings. Dealing with language involves living in the ambiguities created by evolution. As RetroRenovation.com’s Blog Queen, you get to write your own manual! :-)

        • pam kueber says

          Wikipedia is classifying the mid- as a derivational prefix. Looks like they are saying no hyphen unless there’s a proper noun or year after.

          I don’t want to “write my own manual” even though I am Queen, thank you very much. Just as I want to understand the minutiae o’ the mid-mod, I want to understand this, especially because it’s so core to the blog. For sure: The spelling in my header is wrong — THE HORROR!

          • Patty says

            Any one can edit Wikipedia. Any one. Not considered an authority. But then in today’s world quality has slipped quite a bit in many areas.

  16. dahlila says

    The real question should be, how is our SHOPPER going to type it for an SEO tag word? And will said operating system recognize all 3 forms or do we have to add all THREE of them to our listings. Oy.

    Also, mid-century modern or mcm. It never ends. 😉

  17. virginia says

    I’m a Mid-Century person myself. Kind of looks like what it looks like. Will we learn of any results on this one? Thanks again for all you do to brighten up my day and inspire my daydreams.

  18. NetWeasel says

    Engilsh is a language that, unlike some others has been constantly “played with.” One of the things I tend to do with it is create new words on the spot by adding unusual prefixes or suffixes to root words. (Bonus points for being able to change the pronunciation of the root word.) This often results in the following snippet of conversation with those not used to it:

    “That’s not a word.”
    “Do you know what it means?”
    “Well, yes…”
    “Then it’s a word.”

    (The newly built word has to be immediately understandable — you can’t just throw sounds together and arbitrarily give it a definition — that’s branding, not playing with the language.)

    The term being discussed (I’m not going to give away my opinion by typing it yet), to most people, is a relatively unfamiliar one. You’ve got two parts: “mid” and “century.” Once you’ve seen it a few times, it falls into your personal lexicon. But the first time the word is seen, say by a newsreader, there is a brief pause while parsing the pronunciation — very few non-compound words in english, if any, have a “d” followed by a “c” in the middle of the word. To the newsreader, or anyone reading aloud, there is a question as to whether the “c” is hard or soft — midsentury or midkentury? (The question is immediately answered, but it creates a stumble.) The hyphen, by inserting a pause in the word, paradoxically eliminates a longer one. I think that this is the reason that words first enter the language with a hyphen and then quickly lose it through familiaritization.

    I think that this word, as a word, is still too young yet to remove its training wheels — the hyphen should stay in the compound word, at least for a few more years. “Mid-century,” but “Mid Century Modern,” or Mid Century Modest” — use the basic comma rule: say it out loud and write it the way you say it.

    No citiations, merely opinion.

  19. Scott says

    I personally prefer mid-century modern as the other variations look like something was missed or forgotten. Among friends and others so inclined (like here on RR) I usually just say MCM or MCModest. :-)

    For what its worth I can tell you from my web design endeavors that some search engines (but not Google) derail when hyphens are used in site names or other searchable fields. I had a client who hyphenated his domain name and we had to go to all sorts of extremes to get his site picked up by the search engines.

  20. Jane Mack says

    And there’s also mid’-century, with a apostrophe to indicate that mid is a contraction of middle. Of course nobody uses this, so be bold! Be the first on your block to do so.

    As with other compound adjectives, you’d use the hyphenated mid-century to describe a mid-century house, or mid-century modern style.

    Technically, there is no mid century, since mid is not a word. As for midcentury, I don’t like it, it hasn’t had enough time to become standardized and easy to read (whereas unhappy has, along with whereas).

  21. Judy H. says

    I can’t believe I missed this thread. I had some great laughs and groans while reading it. My, some people do take themselves quite seriously, don’t they.
    As for me, I have seen the word spelled every way possible in books, trade publications, decorating magazines and on blogs and I have always understood the design, decor, style or look the author had in mind.
    With so many opinions concerning which spelling is correct or incorrect, my suggestion is to spell the word exactly as you please and in someone’s quite educated opinion, you will always be correct.

  22. Judy H. says

    BTW, that is, “by the way”, quotes or no quotes, I went back to visit a an article by Ellen Kate Taylor. She is a California-based (hyphen is correct because she wrote it that way) writer, home designer and web consultant specializing in interior design and design history.

    At the bottom of her column, she says that mid-century, Midcentury. Mid-century and midcentury are all acceptable alternate spellings for the time, design and styles of the subject we all love to read about in retro renovation.

    So, there is my two cents worth from someone who should know, so HAVE at it!

    p.s. you can read her post at about.com under their “about home” section.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *