Multitask – Meaning & Examples in a Sentence

Photo of author

Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Compound words are great ways to help add detail and description to your speech and writing. Certain words, like multitask, are easy to discern and use. But do you know the various parts of speech multitask can be used and where it originated from?

Let’s take a look at the interesting history behind the word multitask and the many ways you can use it.

What Does Multitask Mean?

Multitask Meaning Examples in a Sentence

Multitask works as a noun, an adjective, and a verb. It is one word and infers that more than one thing is being worked on at once.

For example:

As a noun, the word serves to label a person who multitasks.

For example:

  • She was one of the best multitaskers I had ever seen: juggling children and a full-time job as if it was nothing.

As an adjective, it modifies a noun or pronoun to explain that they are multitasking.

For example:

  • The multitasking computer was able to handle both program management and software downloads at the same time.

As a verb, the word explains the active task of doing more than one thing at a time.

For example:

  • She couldn’t handle distracting noises while multitasking; it created a sensory overload scenario.

Although the word logically seems like it would be fairly common and in use since the dawn of human civilization, it is actually a fairly modern word that can be traced back to the rise of computer programming software in the 1960s.

This doesn’t mean the act of multitasking hasn’t been around forever — just that it wasn’t officially called multitasking.

Multitasking, Multi-Tasking, or Multi Tasking?

As explained above, the word multitask is a compound word made up of combining multi and task. This is the acceptable and most commonly used spelling. However, the hyphenated form is considered acceptable since the two words must be joined together for grammatical correctness.

There are no clear rules governing whether to use hyphens when forming words with living prefixes like multi-, and many people fall back on hyphenation when they’re unsure whether a compound word is dictionary-approved.

Both multitask and multi-task are acceptable spellings, but there’s no reason to use the two-word, unhyphenated “multi task.” The word falls apart if its two main parts don’t work as one. Do not separate the words without a hyphen.

Multitasking Origins

Multitask vs Multi task Ngram
Multitask and multi-task usage trend.

The adjectival sense of multitasking is the original usage, arising in the early 1960s to describe computing systems in which multiple processes execute simultaneously. The verb sense—to perform multiple tasks at once—came about soon thereafter, as did the participial noun multitasking.

Each of these terms remained primarily in the computing sphere before gaining broader use in reference to humans in the 1980s and 90s.

However, interestingly enough, the adjective “multi-task” in relation to non-computer mechanical contexts may be the earliest known use originating from the 1950s.

Let’s Review

Multitasking can be used as a noun, adjective, or verb. It means being able to complete more than one task at a time.

It derives from the 1960s computer industry but may have had some mechanical uses in the 1950s. It wasn’t applied to human actions until the 1980s, but everybody knows that many things throughout history would never have happened without multitasking!