In person or in-person? Learn the difference here

Sometimes, there are words and phrases that we can get a bit confused about the grammar with. One of these is “in person” or is it “in-person”?

Well, it depends.

When used as an adjective, it would be “in-person”. But when used as a verb, it would be “in person”.

So you would say “I prefer in-person talks to Zoom meetings”. But you would say “I spoke to her in person for the first time in months”.

You either have an in-person interview or you interview someone in person.

I want to talk about why this rule exists, where these rules come from, where the words come from, and when you should say “in person” and “in-person”.

Etymologies

Person

I am a person, you are a person.

If you want to find out where people come from or what a person is, you might be better with a science or philosophy blog than a grammar blog.

However, what we can help you with is where the word “person” comes from.

Before “person”, we have the old French “persone”, meaning human being. Before that, we had the Latin “persona”, which was a mask that actors wore when they took to the stage.

Today, we still use the word “persona” to describe someone pretending to be someone they aren’t.

In

The word “in” is a preposition- a location that something can be.

Originally, when we spoke “Proto-Indo-European”, we would have said “en”. In Latin, the “e” got kicked out and got replaced with “i”.

But then, the old French changed it back to “en” again. And this was the way it stayed until middle English until it went back to being “in” again.

So we went En, In, En, In.

This is the reason we spell certain words with “en” as a prefix. We would say “Encourage” even though phonetically, it’s “Incourage”.

In-person vs In person

In-person

When you’re using it as an adjective, you should be using the dash and saying “in-person”.

In case you forgot, an adjective is a descriptive word. Within the sentence “The black cat sat on the soft mat”, “black” and “soft” are the adjectives that are describing the cat and the mat.

Likewise, if we say “I enjoy in-person interviews”, “in-person” would be the adjective as it’s being used to describe the interview.

Despite being two words, The reason for the dash is that “in-person”,, is being treated as one single word, the preposition and noun are combining to create an adjective.

In person

However, when you wish to use it as an adverb, you need to ditch the dash and say “in person”.

An adverb is a word that adds to a verb.

If I were to say “He sat slowly”, “slowly” would be an adverb.

“sat” is the verb, and “slowly” is describing how he was doing the verb.

Adjectives and Adverbs are similar in that they both describe, but adjectives describe nouns, whereas adverbs describe verbs.

When I say “I’ll speak to you in person when we next meet”, “speak” is the verb, and “in person” is the adverb as it’s a description of the verb.

Why you’re reading this

There are two reasons why you’re reading this article, the first one is that you enjoy learning about grammar and the English language- same by the way!

But the more likely reason is that because of lockdown, you’ve been struggling not to talk to others. You’ve grown fed up with all of the zoom calls, and you just want to have an in-person conversation with another person.

That’s understandable. But at the time of my writing this article, there is a vaccine. It’s now just a matter of time before it’ll be given to people, and all of this will end.

You just need to hang tight.

Dash rules

There are five times you should be using the dash.

1. When you want to add emphasis on a particular word or phrase.

“I finally returned to my home country- England!

2. As a replacement for a full stop, when you want to emphasise the connection between two sentences.

“Stay inside, but herb immunity- there were many confusing messages from the government”.

3. When you want to add bonus phrases to emphasize your point.

“Even the simplest tasks- eating, washing, walking- were impossible when I was ill”.

4. To end dialogue before the speaker has finished.

“I think you sho-“

“I don’t care what you think!”

5. When you want to join two words to make one.

“In-person”

“kind-hearted”

“big-headed”

Dash vs Comma

Within the world of grammar, there is a bit of a debate between the comma (,) and the dash (-).

I don’t think there needs to be this battle, because each punctuation serves a different purpose.

Sometimes, a comma is too soft, as you are changing sentence. But a full stop is too strong as you’re still talking about the same point. In these scenarios, the dash can be perfect.

“Cleaning my room, tidying my kitchen, baking bread- I had a very busy day yesterday.”

The use of the dash can also help the reader avoid confusion in sentences that might sound like lists but actually aren’t.

“I eat a lot- I was raised to always respect your food.”

The dash is a piece of punctuation that most of us don’t learn how to use when we’re at school, but it’s actually one of the coolest ones there is.

Hopefully, now, you’ll be able to spice up those boring work emails that nobody is going to read.

In house vs In-house

There’s another word that people tend to make the same mistake with, in house.

But the rules of “in house” are the same as “in person”.

When used as an adjective, treat it as one word, and add the dash.

“This is an in-house matter, please don’t share it with our suppliers”.

However, when used as an adverb, it’s two words and should be “in house”.

“We will deal with it in house. There is no need to call the police”.

Strangely though, phrases such as “in vain”, “in season”, and “in debt” never use a dash. Yes, it is confusing, I respect that.

Conclusion

Should you be using “in-person” or “in person”?

Well, you should be conducting “in-person” interviews, but you should be trying to interview people “in person”.

I think the confusion surrounding the phrase goes to show just how complicated the English language is. And how difficult it must be for new learners to get a grip of it.

I hope that now you don’t just know the answer to the question, but you’ve learnt a thing or two about where “in person” comes from, and what the rules are for dashes, as well as having had a great time reading.