Step by step or Step-by-step? (Helpful Examples)

“Step-by-step” has two different spelling variations that it would help to learn about. We can write it as a hyphenated phrase or as more than one or two words. This article will explain when each one is likely to occur.

Step by step vs. Step-by-step

“Step by step” is a phrasal noun or verb we use to help explain a way to do something. It does not need to be hyphenated when written in this form. “Step-by-step” is correct as an adjective or adverb, which is what we use to describe or explain something else.

Step by step or Step-by-step?

According to Google Ngram Viewer, both “step by step” and “step-by-step” are commonplace. We can use either spelling, but it depends mostly on which one applies to our current writing. We can’t use the unhyphenated form when we’re supposed to use the hyphenated one.

Step by step or Step-by-step - Statistics

In The Cambridge Dictionary and The Oxford Dictionary, “step-by-step” is marked as the adjective and adverbial spelling of the word. However, “step by step” is listed as a phrase that works to explain something in a simple fashion.

There is no overlap between the two forms. Though, in The Cambridge Dictionary, it is mentioned that you can use the hyphenated form in a similar manner to the noun form.

To help explain the differences between nouns and adjectives, you can refer to the following:

  • Noun: I thought it might help to run you through this step by step.
  • Adjective: I have created a step-by-step guide that should help you more.

Step by step

“Step by step” is a phrasal noun. We spell it without the hyphens in this way to show that there is nothing else to describe in the sentence. It’s common to write “step by step” as a standalone phrase. Even though they’re not grouped, every native speaker understands the meaning.

The issue with placing hyphens in the noun form is that it could lead to people getting confused. It might cause them to think they’re dealing with the adjective form, which isn’t ideal when you’re trying to simply show how “step by step” works.

Hopefully, these examples will help to clear things up:

  1. Don’t worry; I’ll be sure to explain this to you step by step.
  2. I have decided to help you out, so I’ll make it easy with this step by step.
  3. I like to deliver my points step by step. That way, no one is going to get confused and claim that I go too fast.
  4. He needs to help us understand it step by step. I really don’t get why he doesn’t help us more!


“Step-by-step” is correct when we want to use it as an adjective or adverb. In these cases, we write it in such a way that we can explain or describe another noun in the sentence. It’s common for the noun to come directly after the hyphenated form.

According to the AP Stylebook guidelines, we should use hyphens to link common words with each other. If those words work to modify or describe the same noun, it’s wise to keep them together with a hyphen when possible.

You might benefit from checking out these examples:

  1. I have created a step-by-step guide that should give you all the instructions you need for this.
  2. His step-by-step instruction was more than enough help for me. I need to thank him.
  3. There are plenty of step-by-step tutorials that you can look into for this one.
  4. Have you seen any of the step-by-steps? I think they might help you out.

As you can see, the hyphen is only required when we include a noun directly after the phrase. However, in example four, we also demonstrated that “step-by-step” doesn’t always need a noun, and sometimes it’s acceptable to hyphenate it when there’s nothing else there.

Is “By-Step” Capitalized In The Word “Step-By-Step”?

There isn’t any point in capitalizing “by-step” in the word “step-by-step” when writing it in a normal sentence. It is not a proper noun, so we do not have to worry about any capitalization with it.

However, you might benefit from capitalizing it if you write it as part of your titles. If you capitalize every other word in a title, it might be wise also to capitalize “by-step” so that it’s not left lower case.