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Writing and Grammar Tips (beta)

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Is it One Word or Two?

S Nicholas

The English language is difficult. So much of how we use words is intuitive. But what about non-native speakers who haven’t been taught English grammar since first grade? It must be terribly difficult! I’ve made a list of words I commonly see misused in papers I edit. Read on to see if these are mistakes you’ve made before.

A Lot versus Alot
What is the difference between a lot and alot? Alot is not a word. Ever. Under any circumstances. It is always, always, always separated into two words: a lot. You will probably frequently see the word written as alot, but it’s wrong. Don’t do it.

All right versus Alright
When is it all right to spell it alright? Simple: always use it in its two-word form: all right. Alright is found in dictionaries, but it is a rarely used form, and not a form you would use in formal writing anyway, so don’t use it. Always spell it in two words: all right.

Everyday versus Every Day
How about everyday versus every day? Everyday used as one word is an adjective. It describes a noun.
For example: My everyday dishes are not as pretty as my formal dishes.
Or: My everyday shoes wear out quickly, but my special occasion shoes do not, because I wear them infrequently.

When you use the phrase every day as two words, it is usually used as an adverb. An adverb is a word that describes a verb (an action word)…sort of like an adjective, but used on a verb, not a noun. An adjective describes a noun: look at that red dress. An adverb describes a verb: she walked slowly. How did she walk? Slowly. So, when using every day as two words, as an adverb, it would look like this: I walk around the block every day. When do I walk around the block? Every day.

A trick I like to use is to put the word “single” in between every and day, and if it works, I know I should use the two-word version. I walk around the block every single day. That works. Using the two-word option is correct.

But using a previous example, could I say: My every single day dishes are not as pretty as my formal dishes? No. That doesn’t work. So I need to use the one-word option, everyday. In this case, everyday is an adjective, describing the noun dishes.

Cannot versus Can Not
This is easy. It’s always cannot. It cannot be spelled can not. Ever. So don’t do it.

When in doubt, use a trusted dictionary to look up the word. Most dictionaries give examples, and you should be able to discern which version of the word to use.

Remember, a lot of people make grammar mistakes every day, but we cannot say that is all right. We must always strive to do our best!

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