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One Word or Two?

Confounding Compounds


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A common writing error occurs when students use the wrong version of a compound word or phrase. It's important to know the difference between everyday and every day because these expressions have very different meanings.

Improve your writing by learning the differences between expressions that are very similar but that fill very different roles when it comes to sentence structure.


A lot or alot?

“A lot” is a two-word phrase meaning very much. This is an informal expression, so you shouldn’t use it “a lot” in your writing.

“Alot” is not a word, so you should never use it!

It’s a good idea to avoid this expression altogether.


All together or altogether?

Altogether is an adverb meaning completely, entirely, wholly, or "considering everything." It often modifies an adjective.

"All together" means as a group.

The meal was altogether pleasing, but I would not have served those dishes all together.

Please try to avoid these everyday mistakes!


Every day or everyday?

The two-word expression “every day” is used as an adverb (modifies a verb), to express how often something is done:

I wear a dress every day.

The word “everyday” is an adjective that means common or ordinary. It modifies a noun.

I wore an everyday dress to the party.


Never mind or nevermind?

The word “nevermind” is often used in error for the two-word term “never mind.” Be careful of this one! In a nutshell, you’ll probably never need to use "nevermind." It’s an old-fashioned noun meaning attention or notice, used in the negative sense:

Pay no nevermind to that man behind the curtain.

The phrase “never mind” is a two-word imperative meaning “please disregard” or “pay no attention to that.” This is the version you'll use most often in your life.

Never mind that man behind the curtain.

You should avoid using the single word nevermind altogether if you are confused by this! Is that explanation all right?


All right or alright?

“Alright” is a word that appears in dictionaries, but it is a nonstandard version of “all right” and should never be used in formal writing.

To be safe, just use the two-word version.

Is everything all right in there?

If you have any doubts about this expression, please ask your teacher for backup information.


Backup or back up?

There are many compound words that confuse us because they sound similar to a verb phrase. In general, the verb form usually consists of two words and the similar compound word version is a noun or adjective.

Verb: Please back up your work when using a word processor.
Adjective: Make a backup copy of your work.
Noun: Did you remember to make a backup?

Go ahead and make up your own examples!


Makeup or make up?

Verb: Make up your bed before you leave the house.
Adjective: Study for your makeup exam before you leave the house.
Noun: Apply your makeup before you leave the house.

Understanding the differences between these words and phrases can be a real workout for your brain!


Workout or work out?

Verb: I need to work out more often.
Adjective: I need to wear workout clothing when I go to the gym.
Noun: That jog gave me a good workout.

Did you pick up on the various meanings?


Pickup or pick up?

Verb: Please pick up your clothes.

Adjective: Don’t use a pickup line on me!

Noun: I’m driving my pickup to the mall.

Remember the differences! Don't be set up for failure!


Setup or set up?

Verb: You'll have to set up the chairs for the puppet show.
Adjective: Unfortunately, there is no setup manual for a puppet show.
Noun: The setup will take you all day.

Are you waking up to the fact that the verb form usually consists of two words?


Wake-up or wakeup?

Verb: I could not wake up this morning.
Adjective: I should have asked for a wake-up call.
Noun: The accident was a good wake-up.

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