Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Writing Lesson: A lot of meanings between one or two words

I'm relatively laid back when I witness spelling errors, misused word, and bad punctuation. Even when they are found in professional writings I can laugh it off. After all, what is important is that meaning is communicated so I don't usually get too uptight about it. But there is one exception, and I see it a lot and far too often.

"alot" vs "a lot"

"A lot" is two words. "Alot" is not a word at all.

This might have to be a rule you just memorize with no tricks. Chant to yourself the phrase, "A lot is two words. A lot is two words," until you get it. Say it until you believe it! Say it until you know it! Say it until it bugs you just like it bugs me!

Why? Because it is two words. It really is! See if you notice the pattern here:

Incorrect: I ran afew laps today. Correct: I ran a few laps today.
Incorrect: I did aton of work today. Correct: I did a ton of work today.
Incorrect: I ate abit of dessert. Correct: I ate a bit of dessert.
Incorrect: I am alittle afraid of snakes. Correct: I am a little afraid of snakes.
Incorrect: I have alot of homework to day. Correct: You're an idiot and you are going to burn if you keep spelling a lot wrong, plus today is one word!

(I'm breathing, I'm breathing)

Okay, that is my soap box. These other cases don't put me in the mental house but I do see them from time to time.

"Alright" vs "all right"

This is similar to the "alot" vs "a lot" argument. Technically, alright is not a word. It is a lazy way of writing "all right" to the point that it has actually become accepted. Go ahead, open up word and type it in. See, no red squiggly line under it (Now do it with alot just to test your sanity). It has even been accepted into the dictionary.

To be on the safe side, always write it out as two words. While it may be acceptable, it is still not taken seriously by the intellectual elite. But then again, who cares about them, go ahead and use either form without abandon!

But, seriously, it is two words.

"Everyday" vs "Every Day"

I've got good news, these are both correct, English words. The only thing is that they are not synonyms or interchangeable with each other.

As one word, "everyday" is a adjective. It describes something you see often or commonly. Since adjectives modify nouns, you'll usually see it in front of the noun it is describing.

I avoided my everyday route to school.
I got another everyday tie for Father's Day.
I enjoy hearing the British accent over the everyday, American accent I grew up with.

Notice in that last example that I threw in two adjectives. I'll save this for another lesson, but two or more adjectives modifying a noun have commas between them.

"Every day" on the other hand is a phrase which means "each day." "Every" is an adjective, and it modifies the word "day."

I want to hug my kids every day.
I try to whistle every day as I work to help the time go by faster.
I see that broken down car every day I drive in this neighborhood.

"Nevermind" vs "never mind"

Nevermind is a word, but it is very outdated. In common (everyday) speech you are using the two-word version, "never mind," which means to disregard or ignore. Don't use the outdated "nevermind" because, I promise you, you will use it wrong. In its correct usage, it doesn't sound like correct English.

Never mind what Tom says, he is crazy!
Never mind the manager, he is just ornery every day.

For what it is worth, "nvm" is NOT a word.

"Sometime" vs "Some Time"

Kudos to Tristi Pinkston for this one and her explanation. I hope she doesn't mind when she noticed I'm stealing this from her.

Sometime is a vague and unspecified time at which you do something. It's use would be the same as saying, "When I get around to it." I like how Tristi explains "some time" so I'll just quote from her writing tip: "The words "some time" mean, "I need a quantity of time." "Some" is used to refer to a quantity." So, it is like needing some salt or some proof. You are asking for an unspecified quantity of time.

Also, if you can put a word like "spare" in the middle of it, then "some time" should be the option to go with.

I need to update my blog sometime.
When I have some time I need to start outlining my story.

I need to update my blog somesparetime.
When I have some spare time I need to start outlining my story.

"Altogether" vs "all together"

"Altogether" is when you are referring to something in its entirety or completeness. Such as if you are considering the sum of all parts of something.

Altogether, the trip was worth every penny.
My computer was $499 and monitor was $149, or $648 altogether.

"All together" means everyone or everything together.

Put the clothes all together in the hamper.
The dogs started barking all together.
When the starting pistol goes off, we will begin the race all together.

I often find the term "all together" being awkward. If you can split the term the sentence usually makes more sense and validates the use of all together in the first place.

Put all the clothes together in the hamper.
All the dogs started barking together.
When the starting pistol goes off, we will all begin the race together.

To Be Continued...

Well, not exactly. I've decided to break each out into its own lessons. So I'll do the examples below as their own post. I was about to delete this post altogether, but decided against it to preserve the comments below.

I'll add more since there are a lot more words that would fit in this:

"Pickup" vs "pick up"
"Already" vs "all ready"

Do you have more? Feel free to comment below!


  1. Some of these bug me and some don't. I'm not intellectually elite though. Oh...your "already"s are the same.

  2. Did not get everyday and every day until now!

  3. LOL!

    I'm glad you took that breather in there. I could feel the cap-lock coming out.

  4. Unfortunately, spelling and grammar--done incorrectly in professional literature--has the same effect as nails on a chalkboard for me. I do mind it--terribly. That's why you'll find I mention typos in book reviews. I won't if there are only a couple, but when the book is riddled with them I want to throw it across the room. Why? Because I'm continually pulled out of the story.

    Great post. Check this out. It helps my eye twitch less when I see "alot."

  5. I love the Hyperbole and a Half post on alot! (I love that alot.)

    Annette Lyon gave a great guideline for figuring out if you need "everyday" or "every day": if you can put "single" between "every" and "day," they're separate words. "It was an everyday thing." vs. "It happened every [single] day."

    Thanks for participating in Writing Wednesday!