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.
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-being ≠ wellbeing
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.”
Bliss, comfort, eudaimonia, felicity, fitness, good, healthiness, joy, protection, prosperity, security, success, weal, welfare, wellness, wholeness.
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
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:
German: Wohlbefinden or Gemütlichkeit
Vietnamese: hạnh phúc
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.
- Which of the following spellings is correct?
a. Well being
d. All of the above
- True or false: well-being is a compound word.
- Which of the following words is a compound word?
a. Public health
b. Health care
d. All of the above
- Which of the following terms is not a synonym of well-being?
- The word well-ness is a _____________.
d. A and C
- “Being.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
- Brody, Bob. “Why It’s Good to Be Old, Even in a Pandemic.” The New York Times, 28 July 20200.
- “Edward Jones Commits Support for Communities in Response to COVID-19.” The Associated Press, 21 Apr 2020.
- “German Word of the Day: Die Gemütlichkeit.” The Local, 27 Sept 2018.
- Sun, Lena H., Amy Brittain. “Meet the New York couple donating millions to the anti-vax movement.” The Oregonian, 19 June 2019.
- “Welfare.” The Merriam-Webster.com Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
- “Well.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
- “Well-being.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2020.
- “Well-being.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
- “Hyphenation Principles.” APA Style, American Psychological Association, 2020.