Baby sit, Pet sit, House sit: One Word, Two Words or Hyphenate?

pet-sitting cat & dogA Ruthless Editor blog follower noted that babysitting, which first appeared in the U.S. lexicon in 1937, is generally expressed as one word.

Yet she finds pet sitting and house sitting often expressed as two words, and in some cases they are hyphenated. Which are correct: pet sit / pet-sit / petsit or house sit / house-sit / housesit?

As I did the research, it occurred to me that some might consider this issue trivial in terms of grammar. On the other hand, these words could readily arise in news writing, fiction or blogging.

Here are some reliable sources and how they present all three: baby sit, pet sit and house sit:

baby-sit or babysit: to take care of a child while the parents are temporarily away.

Pet sitter and pet sitting are nouns, and both are expressed as separate words (no hyphen): the act of caring for a pet in its own home while the owner is away.

Housesit is shown as one word, but this source allows that it can be hyphenated. To house-sit is to take care of a house or residence, especially by living in it, while the owner or occupant is temporarily away.

Sitter is first defined as a person who sits for a portrait or a bust.

A second definition for sitter appears as a person who takes care of someone or something in the place of a parent, owner, etc.

Babysit / babysat are defined in a separate listing as caring for children, usually during a short absence of parents. It can have a broader meaning of giving care more generally. The example: to babysit for a neighbor’s pets.

It does not have a separate listing for pet sitter, but it does have a listing for house sitter (expressed as two words): a person who occupies a dwelling to provide security and maintenance while the tenant is away.

babysit: look after a child or children while the parents are out (one word).

pet-sit: look after a pet or pets while their owner is away, usually staying in the owner’s house (hyphenated).

house-sit: live in and look after a house while its owner is away (hyphenated).

babysit (or baby-sit): to take care of a child or children in the absence of a parent or guardian; to take care of or watch over someone or something needing guidance.

Neither pet sit nor house sit is listed at this site.

babysit: to take care of a baby or child, especially as a job (one word).

pet-sit: to take care of someone’s pet while that person is away from home (hyphenated).

house-sit: to say in someone’s house while the person is away in order to keep it safe (hyphenated). (my usual go-to source)

baby-sit or babysit
There is no entry for pet sit.


Ruthless Editor Summary
Babysit more often is treated as a single word. You have choices with the care of pets and of houses.

I’m inclined to hyphenate both, as petsit and housesit look odd when encountered in a sentence. One purpose of a hyphen is to form a single idea from two or more words: pet-sit, house-sit.

If you want to be consistent, you might choose to hyphenate all three. How could anyone present a strong argument against it? baby-sit, pet-sit, house-sit

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)