Wellbeing or well-being?

The word wellbeing is a common misspelling of well-being. The noun well-being consists of an adjective and a verb, so a hyphen is necessary for the words to become one.

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What is the difference between wellbeing and well-being?

His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, once tweeted, “Compassion is concern for others–– sincere concern for others well-being founded on awareness of our experiences.” Whether you agree with the message or not, he’s got one thing right: it’s well-being, not wellbeing.

You don’t have to be a Tibetian monk to understand the difference between wellbeing and well-being. The two words represent the same concept, but only one of them possesses the correct spelling: “well-being.” 

Well-beingwellbeing

It’s not hard to understand why so many writers misspell the word well-being. After all, there are several grammar rules that dictate the use of hyphens and compound words. But that’s the trick: the word ‘well-being’ isn’t a compound word. 

The word “well” of well-being is an adjective, while “being” (i.e., ‘state of being’ or ‘existence’) is a noun. Together, they form a distinct word that cannot modify another noun. Therefore, they must include a hyphen to convey a unique concept: ‘the condition of being well.’ 

Depending on how specific the topic is, we can use the word well-being to encompass mental health, life satisfaction, or physical health with phrases like ‘emotional well-being,’ ‘psychological well-being,’ or ‘physical well-being.’ 

It’s only within these phrases that “well-being” joins a compound phrase because words like ’emotional,’ ‘psychological,’ or ‘physical’ are all modifying adjectives. Typically, compound phrases with a modifying adjective are also hyphenated. But since ‘emotional well-being’ is not yet accepted as it’s own word, the phrase remains open. 

Additional tricky terms include: 

  • Public health (not public-health)
  • Health care or healthcare (not health-care)
  • Caregiver (not care giver)
  • Preexisting (not pre-existing) 
  • Physical health (not physical-health) 
  • Mental health (not mental-health)

What does well-being mean, anyways?

The word well-being (wɛlˈbi) is a mass noun defined as ‘the state of health, happiness, or prosperity.’ The noun is synonymous with the noun “welfare,” which Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines as, “The state of doing well” regarding “one’s happiness or success.”

But outside of linguistic sources, health care providers have a more comprehensive understanding of what “well-being” means to them. For instance, the Mayo Clinic’s Well-Being Index measures its employee’s level of ‘wellness’ based on factors involving work-life integration, coping mechanisms, and their quality of relaxation. 

Example sentences with “well-being” include: 

“I am concerned about your well-being.” 
“Counselors assess their patient’s well-being by tracking reports of negative vs. positive emotions.” 
“Some people believe their well-being depends on good fortune, while others believe it requires good health.”

Synonyms

Bliss, comfort, eudaimonia, felicity, fitness, good, healthiness, joy, protection, prosperity, security, success, weal, welfare, wellness, wholeness.

Antonyms

Ill-being, misery, sadness, suffering, unhappiness, unhealthiness, wretchedness. 

How to use well-being in a sentence?

To use the word well-being in a sentence correctly, it’s important to remember that it’s a noun. We cannot use “well-being” to modify other adjectives, verbs, or adverbs. And, as always, remember the hyphen! 

Recent examples from online publishers include: 

“Older people report feeling higher satisfaction, happiness and well-being — and less anxiety, depression and stress …” –– The New York Times
“Emotional well-being has a real impact on physical health.” –– Earth
“As COVID-19 threatens the health and well-being of people and communities across North America, financial-services firm Edward Jones is committing $2.7 million to support national and community organizations…” –– AP News
“Scientific literacy is critical to our nation’s well-being.” –– MinnPost
“‘Any suggestion to the contrary is a threat to the health and well-being of New Yorkers.’” –– The Oregonian 

Additional reading

If you’re interested in learning more about health-related grammar, check out our blogs on topics, such as:

FAQ: Related to wellbeing vs. well-being

Is well-being hyphenated in other languages?

The noun well-being doesn’t contain a hyphen in all languages. For example, the Spanish word for well-being is ‘bienestar,’ while Italian uses ‘benessere.’ However, French does hyphenate ‘bien-être,’ while Portuguese leaves it open with ‘bem estar.’ 

Additional translations of well-being include: 

Afrikaans: welstand

German: Wohlbefinden or Gemütlichkeit

Vietnamese: hạnh phúc

Swahili: ustawi

Japanese: Kōfuku

Zulu: inhlala-kahle

Test Yourself!

Learning new words is difficult, but “well-being” doesn’t need to be one of them. Perfect your understanding of wellbeing vs. well-being with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. Which of the following spellings is correct?
    a. Well being
    b. Wellbeing
    c. Well-being
    d. All of the above
  2. True or false: well-being is a compound word.
    a. True
    b. False
  3. Which of the following words is a compound word?
    a. Public health
    b. Health care
    c. Caregiver
    d. All of the above
  4. Which of the following terms is not a synonym of well-being?
    a. Eudaimonia
    b. Protection
    c. Wretchedness
    d. Welfare
  5. The word well-ness is a _____________.
    a. Noun
    b. Verb
    c. Adjective
    d. A and C

Answers

  1. C
  2. B
  3. D
  4. C
  5. A

Sources

  1. Being.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  2. Brody, Bob. “Why It’s Good to Be Old, Even in a Pandemic.” The New York Times, 28 July 20200. 
  3. Edward Jones Commits Support for Communities in Response to COVID-19.” The Associated Press, 21 Apr 2020. 
  4. German Word of the Day: Die Gemütlichkeit.” The Local, 27 Sept 2018. 
  5. Sun, Lena H., Amy Brittain. “Meet the New York couple donating millions to the anti-vax movement.” The Oregonian, 19 June 2019. 
  6. Welfare.” The Merriam-Webster.com Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  7. Well.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  8. Well-being.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2020. 
  9. Well-being.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  10. Hyphenation Principles.” APA Style, American Psychological Association, 2020.