Usage and Grammar

Q. Many of my clients (graduate students and researchers) want to use the term “post COVID” to mean “after the COVID-19 pandemic,” as in “Returning from Remote Work post COVID.” I believe this would make “post” a preposition, and that’s not one of the parts of speech for “post” listed in Merriam-Webster. The dictionary gives examples of “post” as a prefix for verbs, nouns, and adjectives. So “post-COVID symptoms” is fine, of course. It appears that using “post COVID” to mean “after the pandemic” has become installed in our everyday language due to the familiarity of “post-COVID” as a compound adjective. That doesn’t mean it can be used as a preposition, does it? You couldn’t say, for example, “I’m going jogging post breakfast.” So I think “I’m going back to the gym post COVID” is equally incorrect. What is your take on this? Thank you very much!

A. We agree that the prefix post- functions as a preposition when you remove the hyphen. But we also agree that it’s a little early to declare a post-post-as-prefix world, at least in edited prose intended for publication—though the OED does include the prepositional sense for post, dating it to 1965.

Instead, we’d advise keeping the hyphen and treating the compound as an adverb: “Returning from Remote Work Post-COVID.” Without the hyphen, Post is subject to a momentary misreading (possibly as a noun), and because it isn’t a typical preposition, lowercase “post” might look odd.

For what it’s worth, the OED’s examples of prepositional post seem relatively casual and potentially ambiguous (e.g., “Now, post the increase . . .”; “Post the Geneva meeting of Opec . . .”).* The term will be more familiar as a prefix, and you can keep the capital P.†

* In British style, it’s normal to spell acronyms with an initial cap (as in Opec for OPEC—or Covid for COVID).

† The OED records several post- adjectives that, like “Post-COVID” in the example headline above, can also be used as adverbs. Most of our readers would probably be familiar with the adverb post-publication. If not, get back to us post-lunch (another OED entry). (Chicago style would normally call for postpublication and postlunch, though some editors would retain a hyphen in one or both of those terms for the sake of clarity. For more on this subject, see “Prefixes: A Nonissue, or a Non-Issue?” at CMOS Shop Talk.)