Is That One Word or Two?

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 in formal writing.

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.

Everyday or Every Day?
The two-word expression “every day” is used as an adverb (modifies a verb like wear), 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 was horrified when I realized I’d worn an everyday dress to the formal dance.

They served an everyday meal — nothing special.

Never Mind or Nevermind?
The word “nevermind” is often used in error for the two-word term “never mind.”

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.

All Right or Alright?
“Alright” is a word that appears in dictionaries, but it is a nonstandard version of “all right” and should not be used in formal writing.

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

Is everything all right in there?

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

Wake-up or Wake Up?
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.