English is full of words and phrases that are identical except for a letter and/or a space. Examples include altogether/all together, over time/overtime, and over all/overall.
As professional writers and editors, our “writer’s instinct” will often tell us which form to use in a sentence. In some cases, the differences are subtle. I’ve caught myself questioning a few one-word phrases recently.
A recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review
offered the following guidelines:
• The one-word form is usually an adjective or adverb;
• The two-word form is usually a two-word phrase not modifying anything;
• When in doubt, say the expression out loud. For instance, “Are the desserts made everyday or every day? If you enunciate each word separately, it’s probably written as two words.”
The following are some less clear-cut word pairs.
We don’t want to confuse them any more than we already have.
(In this case, already
is used as an adverb.)
Are you all ready for the writing test?
is a phrase meaning thoroughly prepared.)
She is altogether the worst writer I have ever seen.
is an adjective meaning entirely.)
We were all together for the CEO’s announcement.
is a phrase meaning all there.)
Anyone can make that mistake.
is a pronoun, meaning anybody.)
Any one of you might be next.
is a phrase. Any
serves as an adjective and one
serves as a noun.)
You are welcome to consult the style guide anytime.
is an adjective and can be replaced with whenever
Do you have any time to edit this article?
is another two-word adjective-noun form.)
There was a backup on the toll road this morning.
(The one word form means a stoppage or overflow.)
The police officer told the driver to back up.
(The two-word phrase means to go in reverse.)
The salary cutbacks were disastrous for employee morale.
is a noun meaning a decrease or reduction.)
I need to cut back on my consumption of chocolate.
is the verb form.)
How many spelling errors did you find on that handout?
(Similar to cutback, handout
is a noun.)
I hand out chocolate to my workshop attendees.
is a verb.)
Maybe you should quit while you’re ahead.
is an adverb meaning perhaps.)
It may be that the style guide was wrong.
functions as a verb.)
Certain employees don’t get paid overtime.
is a noun, meaning time beyond an established limit.)
Over time, we all learned to accept her use of the serial comma.
(The two-word phrase refers to the passage of time.)
What was your overall impression?
is an adjective meaning general.)
The paper airplane flew over all our cubicles.
is a prepositional phrase. Over
indicates a direction, and all
is the object of that preposition.)
readers, can you think any other confusing one- or two-word phrases?
Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor. Read more of her work at www.impertinentremarks.com.