When is a word not a word?
When it should be two words.
Thank you all for your enthusiasm with the launch of Practical Grammactical last month. (And particularly big thanks to Bron at Maxabella loves for kicking it all off by asking for this guest post.) The response has been wonderful, and the questions have been flowing into the facebook inbox.
Okay, you got me. There have been a grand total of six questions so far. But I’m still excited!
One particular question from Karen (hi Karen!) caught my attention, because I’ve seen examples of it myself:
My gym has a sign that says ‘Come and workout here!’ and it bugs me. And I don’t know if it’s supposed to bug me or if it’s actually correct and there’s actually a bug in my head. What’s the deal with workout and work out? Are they interchangeable? Why does English hate me?
Okay. First things first. English doesn’t hate you, Karen. English hates everybody.
Just joking. English is wonderful! We love you, dear English language! (Please don’t smite us.)
Let’s discuss the difference between ‘workout’ and ‘work out’. But let’s warm up with another one word/two words confusion that often trips people up. One that used to be close to my blogging heart.
Everyday or every day?
Those of you who have been following this blog since before Christmas will understand why the misuse of ‘every day’ and ‘everyday’ gets my goat more than it has the right to get the goat of anyone who claims to be a descriptive linguist.
Before this blog moved to this URL and was renamed emhawkerblog, it was called You learn something new every day.
You learn something new every day. Every. Day. Two words. Not one. But often when it was quoted or discussed elsewhere, it would be written as ‘You learn something new everyday’. Everyday. One word. Not two.
I bit my tongue, because nobody likes a grammatical pedant. Besides, everyone knew what was meant, and as I’ve said before, the main purpose of language is mutual comprehension. (And people were talking about my blog! LIKE OH EM GEE WOOHOO THAT’S TOTES AWESOME CALL IT WHATEVER YOU LIKE!)
But it grated. So here’s the deal if you want to get it right (where ‘right’ means in agreement with our national dictionary definitions at the time of publishing this post):
‘Everyday’ is an adjective. It means ordinary. Regular. Mundane. If something is an everyday thing, it’s a regular, expected thing. It can also mean daily, which is where the confusion arises. But it’s an adjective, not a noun. It can’t replace ‘every day’. Because…
… ‘every day’ is a noun phrase (where the adjective ‘every’ modifies the noun ‘day’). When something happens every day, it actually happens every day. I write every day. I sleep every day (in varying amounts). And I think about chocolate every day. Every. Single. Day.
And that right there is a great test for it if you get stuck. If you’re not sure whether to use ‘everyday’ or ‘every day’, try inserting the word ‘single’ in the middle. If you can, you’re after the two-word version.
Or try substituting ‘each’ for ‘every’. You learn something new each day wouldn’t have been as catchy, but there would have been less tongue-biting!
Workout or work out? Checkout or check out?
These ones are really easy. Really, really easy. I promise. Once you get it, you’ll never unget it.
(I just invented a word. Please use ‘unget’ in a sentence today. Let’s get it into the dictionary by 2018. Future pedants can then attempt to unget it. I just invented a secondary definition for my newly invented word. See? English is fun! Sorry. I digress. Back to ‘workout’, ‘work out’, ‘checkout’ and ‘check out’.)
The single words are nouns. A workout is an exercise that you perform. A checkout is something you visit to purchase goods, or a procedure that you carry out when leaving a facility.
The word pairs are verbs followed by adverbs. You work out solutions to problems. You work out at the gym. You check out people you fancy. You check out of hotels.
A good test for this one is to see if you can change the tense. If you can, you’re after the two-word version.
Apart or a part?
Here’s another one I often see mixed up, and a lot of the time I think we can point the finger squarely at autocorrect. That cheeky little electronic imp likes nothing better than to push ‘a’ and ‘part’ together at every opportunity.
‘Apart’ is an adverb. It means in pieces or separately. To take something apart is to take it to pieces. To look at something apart from something else is to look at it separately from something else.
‘A part’ is a noun phrase. Your elbow is a part of your body. Your Nickelback CD is a part of your music collection (and I totally judge you for it). Your love of Cadbury Peppermint Dairy Milk is a part of your chocolate addiction. Sorry, my chocolate addiction. My bad. Boom tish.
I often see sentences like this: I feel like apart of this community. Ignoring the fact that the adverb and preposition don’t agree with each other, if you read this with the above definitions in mind, you might think that this person feels separated from their community. In actual fact, when you separate the words – I feel like a part of this community – the opposite is true.
And if you don’t ignore the preposition? You’ve found a good test for it. Generally speaking, if it’s followed by a ‘from’, you want the one-word version. If it’s followed by ‘of’, use two words.
Another test? (A better test, usually.) Try inserting an adjective between the ‘a’ and the ‘part’. A big part. A small part. An important part. If it works, you’re after the two-word version.
And that’s it! Or that’s all I can fit in this post.
Enjoy second-guessing every compound word you use from now on, everyone! (Every one? No, definitely everyone.) Apologies in advance.
What do you think? Helpful? Too much like a Year 8 English lesson? All feedback and comments appreciated.
And do you have any grammatical grumbles you need help with? Share them here!