20 Pairs of One-Word and Two-Word Forms

By Mark Nichol

Many common words and phrases are identical except for a strategic letter space — apart and “a part” come to mind — and though knowing which form to use in a sentence is often obvious (as in that example), the difference can be subtle. Here are some of the less clear-cut pairs:

1. Ahold/a hold: Ahold is a variant of the noun hold, used in such sentences as “I’ll get ahold of you later.” But when you mean to refer to an actual grip on something, use two words: “She really has a hold on you.” If it’s hard to decide which form to employ, try this test: If you can insert an adjective between a and hold, the two-word form is appropriate.

2. Already/all ready: Use the former when you need an adverb, as in “I told you already.” The latter form is correct in sentences such as “We’re all ready for the party.”

3. Alot/a lot: These two forms are interchangeable except in one significant respect: The one-word version is wrong. It is used often in informal writing and may one day be standard, but until you get the official memo, refrain from using it if you want to be taken seriously as a writer.

4. Alright/all right: See item number 3.

5. Altogether/all together: The one-word form, an adverb, suffices to mean “completely” or “in total,” as in “Altogether, we saved $100 on the deal.” (It also means “nude” in the idiomatic phrase “in the altogether.”) The phrase is appropriate for sentences such as “We are all together in this.”

6. Anybody/any body: The one-word form is a pronoun used in such constructions as “He doesn’t get along with anybody.” The two-word adjective-noun form is applicable in limited contexts, such as in the sentence “Any body in motion responds to gravity.”

7. Anymore/any more: The one-word form is used as an adverb in sentences such as “We don’t go there anymore”; the two-word form consists of the adjective any and the noun more, as in “I just can’t eat any more of that pie.”

8. Anyone/any one: The one-word form is a pronoun, synonymous with anybody, used as in “Anyone can make that claim.” “Any one” consists of the adjective any and the noun one, as in “Any one of you might be next.”

9. Anyplace/any place: The adverb anyplace is a synonym for anywhere: “She won’t let me go anyplace without her.” The latter usage is an adjective-and-noun phrase that describes a location: “He doesn’t want to go to any place he can’t smoke.”

10. Anything/any thing: Anything is the likely usage: “I don’t remember anything.” The two-word adjective-noun form is generally separated by an another adjective: “She’s just does any little thing she wants.”

11. Anytime/any time: To describe with what frequency something might occur, use the one-word adverbial form: “Stop by anytime.” The two-word adjective-noun form is preceded by the word at: “You may leave at any time.”

12. Anyway/any way: Anyway is a synonym for anyhow: “We didn’t want to go anyway.” The two-word adjective-noun form is preceded by the word in: “That doesn’t change the results in any way.”

13. Awhile/a while: The noun phrase “a while” and the adverb awhile are virtually interchangeable in a sentence, though you should precede the two-word form with the word for: “I think I’ll sit here for a while” and “I think I’ll sit here awhile” mean the same thing.

14. Cannot/can not: Cannot is virtually the only proper alternative. The second usage is wrong except in the correct awkward construction in the sentence “I can not go,” meaning “I can decide not to go.”

15. Everyday/every day: The one-word form is an adjective meaning “ordinary,” used to describe something usual as in “These are my everyday clothes.” The two-word phrase, an adverb, is used in such sentences as “I go there every day” to explain how something is done.

16. Everyone/every one: To refer to everybody, use one word: “Everyone’s a critic.” To emphasize a single individual or item, use two words: “Every one of them is broken.”

17. Everything/every thing: Everything is the default choice: “You’ve ruined everything.” The two-word adjective-noun form is usually divided by an additional adjective: “Every little thing she does is magic.”

18. Maybe/may be: The first choice is an alternative to the adverb perhaps; the second is a verb phrase used in such sentences as “It may be that she was right after all.”

19. Overtime/over time: As one word, this means work done beyond a regular shift: “I’ve worked overtime several days this week.” As two words, it refers to the passage of time: “Over time, we’ve seen dramatic changes.”

20. Sometime/some time: The one-word form is an adverb describing vagueness about when something will happen, as in “I’ll get around to it sometime.”

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15 Responses to “20 Pairs of One-Word and Two-Word Forms”

  • Tony Hearn

    One can argue the numerical point that AnWulf makes, but I think it is partly beside the point. What matters is what impression you make on your reader. If you make a native speaker of a language feel what you write is unnatural or awkward, the resulting negative feelings may cloud their acceptance of what you say, or at least make them ill at ease with you. Where that is combined with it a feeling of being ‘railroaded’ (as you Americans say!) the situation gets worse not better. It’s easy for younger Big Brother to tell older smaller brother to ‘get over it’, but it’s not going to help! Language runs deep in the human psyche.

    The argument from the numerical superiority of North American (and particularly US) English speakers over the British and the complex historical relationships between the two communities heighten British sensibilities in a way that most Americans can hardly conceive; and logic alone will not rescue the situation!

  • AnWulf

    @Sally … A quick search of the BNC (British Nat’l Corpus) shows that “gotten” is alive and well in Br.Eng … so much for you pronouncing it archaic. I can give you a few cites if you like.

    Keep in mind that the population of native speakers of English in the US greatly outnumbers those of the UK and Australia combined. Add in that many, if not most, of those learning English as a second language have expressed a preference for US English. So don’t be in a rush to pronounce the more dominant usage as “archaic”.

  • Sally

    Well said, Tony, particularly on ‘ahold,’ ‘anymore’ and ‘anyplace.’

    ‘Ahold,’ like ‘gotten,’ is an archaism in ‘the commonwealth,’ but because it was still viable when the US was founded, it exists there. The spelling ‘aholt’ is simply due to the typically Indo-European habit of devoicing a consosonant at the end of words in certain phonological environments (some USans say ‘secont’ for ‘second’ too).

    ‘Anymore’ and ‘anyplace’ are certainly *possible* – one can make a case for contrast, in the same manner as for ‘anybody/any body’ – but they have not yet gained aceptance in commonwealth lexicons. The danger is that people who run ‘any place’ together are likely always to run ‘anymore’ (and all the others) together too and thus *lose* the contrast.

    ‘Alright’ is slightly further along the road to acceptance, at least here in Australia, according to the Macquarie Dictionary (widely recognized as our ‘national’ dictionary). And why not? It is useful to contrast ”alright – adverb of affirmation’ and Anto’s “all right = totally correct.” Unfortunately, the same caveat I offered at the end of the last paragraph will apply here too.

    Australian English, while closer to the British standard than to the USan, is sufficiently different to be recognized as a distinct dialect. Microsoft does – strangely, Uncle Bill (Gates) thinks that it is some sort of substandard argle-bargle deviation from standard ‘mer’kan (he thinks we spell it ‘color’), which is why I have set my computer’s default language to *British* English.

  • Anto

    Marvelous, I stand corrected, thanks to all of you; I will henceforth find substitutes for my “alright”s.
    But I can’t imagine I’d use “all right” instead. Doesn’t “all right” have a different meaning from “alright”, or “acceptable”?
    Is the suggestion that “all” and “entirely” are interchangeable in this context?

  • hz

    I know it’s been mentioned before, but in British English, alright is indeed a proper word, commonly used and defined in British dictionaries. This spelling is common in Australia, where British English is spoken.

  • Deborah H

    Splendid article today, Mark.

    Ahold—occasionally pronounced aholt. “You get aholt that end, and I’ll get aholt this end, and we’ll roll ‘im over.

    Note from my 8th grade English teacher, neatly printed in red ink the margin of my essay: Never forget—alright is alwrong.

  • Teerex51

    Good stuff, Mark. Excellent material for a training course.

  • Cecily

    Folwer is not as condemnatory, Tony, and it also points out the useful “all correct” meaning:

    all right
    is still the preferred way of writing this common expression. The alternative form alright, despite its much higher frequency, is not fully accepted, although there are various arguments in its favour, especially: (1) the need to distinguish it from the use in which all is a pronoun and not an adverb, as in He finished the crossword and got it all right, (2) the analogy of altogether, already, etc., which similarly need to be distinguished from two-word forms having other meanings, and (3) its pronunciation as a single word. None the less, all right should be used for the time being, not alright. Examples: (all right)
    One advantage of the permissive society is that it’s all right to live together before marriage—Woman’s Own, 1971
    It’s all right for you…You won’t have to do the post-mortem with these guys—Len Deighton, 1974
    ‘Oh, all right’, she said, ‘go and be damned.’—Graham Greene, 1980
    (alright) They’ve been bloody inscrutable alright—P. Cave, 1979
    You’ll be alright, love—Chinua Achebe, 1987
    If you’ve got the ears to know what sounds good you’re going to be pretty much alright—Guitarist, 1992.

    How to cite this entry:
    “all right” Pocket Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Ed. Robert Allen. Oxford University Press, 2008. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.

  • Tony Hearn

    Mark, this needs to come with a health warning if you intend it to be read in the big wide world outside the USA!

    1. ‘Ahold ‘ in this verbal sense is unknown to me, the Collins English Dictionary (CED) and the Shorter Oxford Dictionary (SED). I assume it is an American provincialism.

    7. ‘Anymore’ is unacceptable in UK. It is unknown to the SED, and listed as ‘U.S’ in CED.

    9. “The adverb anyplace is a synonym for anywhere”. Not in the UK, it isn’t! It is not listed in SED. CED lists it as ‘U.S. and Canadian informal’.

    11. Anytime/any time: ‘anytime’ is again unknown to me, the Collins English Dictionary (CED) and the Shorter Oxford Dictionary (SED). I assume it too is an American provincialism.

    13. Awhile/a while: They are only ‘interchangeable’ inasmuch as they have a similar meaning. The first, however, is an adverb, the second (‘for a while’) is a noun phrase used adverbially.

    14. Cannot/can not: in UK use I detect only a difference of formality. CED gives them as equivalents. SED gives “cannot: the usual modern way of writing ‘can not’ .”


    “I will go some time in the future (or should this also be sometime?)”: yes it should! Here ‘sometime’ is an adverb.
    “You will have some time to work on that later.” Correct. Here ‘some time’ is a noun phrase.
    “Some time ago…. “ Also correct. Noun phrase used adverbially.
    “What about the common ‘sometimes’ ? As in the popular song these days, “Oh, oh, sometimes, I get a good feeling…” Is it ever correct?” It is always correct in the adverbial sense of ‘at times’.

    “alright”: I disagree. As a teacher I always correct it. In the UK it seems widely still to be seen as slovenly or at best highly informal. I think Mark’s earlier caveat applies here: “The one-word version is wrong. It is used often in informal writing and may one day be standard, but until you get the official memo, refrain from using it if you want to be taken seriously as a writer.”

  • AnWulf

    RE: alright
    OED: alright |ôlˈrīt|
    variant spelling of all right.
    usage: The merging of all and right to form the one-word spelling alright is first recorded toward the end of the 19th century (unlike other similar merged spellings such as altogether and already, which date from much earlier). There is no logical reason for insisting that all right be two words when other single-word forms such as altogether have long been accepted. Nevertheless, although found widely, alright remains nonstandard.

  • Brian D. Meeks (@ExtremelyAvg)

    I love your blog. The third pairing was fantastic. I had to stop and tell you how I loved it, before moving on to the fourth.

  • Leif G.S. Notae

    Good points here, I have been guilty of some of these pretty bad errors. It seems I still need to keep an eye out for things like this. Thanks for the list, glad you shared this!

  • Cecily

    Number 3 (alot/a lot) is NOT the same as number 4 (alright/all right).

    I know “alright” is depricated in AmE, but it’s absolutely fine in all but the most formal BrE, and widely used. That may also be true of other non-American Englishes.

  • Joan

    Great post. I particularly love comment #2 and 3. Pet peeves of mine. And thanks for clarifying ‘cannot’ You didn’t finish the second half of number 20. These are not interchangeable, correct? I can think of several uses:

    I will go some time in the future (or should this also be sometime?)

    You will have some time to work on that later.

    Some time ago….

    What about the common ‘sometimes’ ? As in the popular song these days, “Oh, oh, sometimes, I get a good feeling…” Is it ever correct?

  • Luke

    What about “thank you” as a verb/pronoun combination, and “thankyou” as a noun? I think I’m going to like this ‘site, it both polishes the turd of my writing skills and rolls the poo of my teaching abilities in glitter.

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