Student athlete or Student-athlete? (Hyphen Explained)

If writing about “student-athletes,” you might want to know whether the word comes in the hyphenated form or not. This article will explore whether it’s correct as one or two words and give you all the rules you need to know to understand it better.

Student athlete vs. Student-athlete

“Student-athlete” should be hyphenated. There are no official grammar rules stating that “student athlete” is incorrect, but most native speakers will write it as a compound noun because it’s so common. Contextual rules apply to this noun more than grammatical ones.

Student athlete or Student-athlete?

According to Google Ngram Viewer, “student-athlete” is almost always hyphenated. It’s vastly more popular than the unhyphenated variation, which shows it’s the one that most native speakers lean toward.

Student athlete or Student-athlete - Statistics

Unfortunately, neither The Cambridge Dictionary nor The Oxford Dictionary gives us a sufficient definition for either phrase. However, they both have listed entries for “student” and “athlete” and write them as nouns.

We can therefore combine the two nouns with a hyphen to turn them into a compounded form. That’s why “student-athlete” is your best bet in writing.

Student athlete

“Student athlete” is not correct as two words. Some people will write it as a phrasal noun in this way (and there’s no grammatical reason why this is not correct). However, it is more of a conceptual choice that most native speakers opt for the hyphenated form over anything else.

Since “student” and “athlete” are so commonly written together, it makes sense that people wanted to find a way to group them more naturally. That’s why the hyphen form came about, as it aided with many readers’ comprehension of how the words worked together.

Now, it is a compound noun, and many people will not recognize it without the hyphen.

Check out some of these examples to help you figure it out:

  • Correct: I am a student-athlete, and I work really hard to get what I can out of my sports.
  • Incorrect: You are not a student athlete anymore. You have got to start focusing on the real world now.
  • Correct: As a student-athlete board, we want to represent only the best specimens on the field!
  • Incorrect: She was student athlete once upon a time, but times have since changed!


It makes the most sense to hyphenate “student-athlete.” It is a compound noun that uses both “student” and “athlete” in the same breath to talk about someone who competes in sports while still a student in college. It’s a common hyphen form that we must stick to.

If you read through the AP Stylebook, you’ll find there are plenty of explanations about how hyphen rules work. We can always group more than one word with a hyphen when both of those words follow a similar meaning.

AP Style usually applies to adjectives, but we can extend the rules to nouns when the two (or more) words are commonly seen together. Since “student athlete” is such an important thing to talk about, it made sense to hyphenate it whenever it appeared.

Here are a couple of examples that should help you to understand more about it:

  1. We are student-athletes through and through! You won’t find anyone that works harder than us.
  2. As student-athletes, it’s important that we get our way! If you don’t cater to us, we’ll end up losing the matches.
  3. I was a student-athlete in my prime, but those days are far behind me now!
  4. At least all the student-athletes managed to make it work! I’m proud to say that they are part of my team now.

Is “Athlete” Capitalized In The Word “Student-Athlete”?

Finally, let’s go over come capitalization rules when it comes to hyphenated forms. Some people struggle here, so make sure you understand this part!

“Athlete” does not need to be capitalized in “student-athlete.” It is not a proper noun, so neither part requires a capital letter. With that said, you might find it appropriate to capitalize both parts if included in a title.

When you write a title, it’s common for some people to follow capitalization rules which means every word is capitalized. If this is the case, it would also make sense to write “Student-Athlete” to be more in line with the rest of your title style.