English has a number of peculiarities that make the language confusing for those who are just learning the language. They include homophones, homonyms, compound words, and word pairs which look and sound similar but have entirely different meanings.
Compound words which can be one word or two can be especially confusing. Here we will look at four of these confusing word pairs; everyday vs every day, anytime vs any time, awhile vs a while, sometime vs some time, and someday vs some day.
Everyday vs Every day
Like many compound words, “everyday” and “every day” are typically more confusing in spoken English than in written English since most speakers do not parse the words correctly.
- Everyday – This is an adjective; which means “mundane”, “typical”, “ordinary”, or “standard”. The phrase “everyday routine” refers to a normal, ordinary day where nothing unusual occurred. As the English language becomes even less formal, you will occasionally hear people use the word as a noun, sort of a shorthand version of “everyday chores.”
- Every day – When written as two words it means “each day”, “every” is an adjective for “day.” One easy way of checking your usage is the replace the work “every” with the word “each” and checking that your sentence still makes sense. For example, “each day routine” is not correct whereas “each day I drink a glass of milk” does.
Anytime vs Any time
This compound word is an example of how the English language has changed. A few decades ago, the accepted standard was to always write “any time” as two words. A few scholars still consider using the compound version to be lazy writing.
- Anytime [any time] is an adverb which means whenever.
In almost all cases the two word version and the compound version mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably.
– I am available anytime if you’d like me to help with your move.
– I am available any time if you’d like me to help with your move.
- “Any time” [or anytime] can also serve as a conjunction.
– Anytime we had the chance we would go for a swim.
– Any time we had the chance we would go for a swim.
- There are a few instances where any time should be two words.
- When the phrase is used with a preposition like “at” two words should be used.
– I will gladly help at any time of the day or night.
- When you are referring to an amount of time the two word version is used.
– Do you have any time to review my test today?
A While vs Awhile
- A while – This is a noun phrase meaning an amount of time. One test to ensure that you are using the words correctly is to replace “a while” with another unit of time. If the sentence still makes sense you are using the phrase correctly.
– It has been a while since I last drank coffee.
– It has been a month since I last drank coffee.
- The compound word awhile means “for a time” and is an adverb. One way to check that you are using the word correctly is to replace the word with another adverb.
– The dog waited awhile for his dinner.
– The dog waited patiently for his dinner.
Sometime vs Some time
Once again this is an example of the compound word and the two word version being different types of words and having different meanings.
- Sometime – Sometime can be both an adverb and an adjective.
- As an adverb “sometime” means “at some point”.
– I will finish my landscaping project sometime.
- “Sometime” can also be used as an adjective meaning “former.”
– Tony, a sometime UPS driver, now plays professional poker for a living.
- Some time – When written as two words “some time” means a “period of time” and is typically used to refer to a long period of time.
– Jack has lived in this neighbourhood for some time.
Someday vs Some day
- Someday – This compound word is an adverb and means “at an indefinite time in the future.”
– Someday I will invest in a new mobile phone but the old one will be ok until I do so.
- Some day – Some day is an adjective, some, and a noun, day. Some means “unknown” or “unspecified”. When paired with day it means a single day that is unknown.
– The term paper is due some day in May.
Here are some exercises to see if you can identify if a word is used correctly or incorrectly.
- Political pundits are watching members of Congress to see which of them are the most likely to some day be President.
- The store is having a sale on everyday men’s clothing.
- For some people living in third world countries, every day crime is a major concern.
- The bakery has chairs outside the shop for customers to rest a while and enjoy their purchase.
- After a while, I began to calm down and feel more relaxed.
- Give me a call sometime and we can meet for coffee.
- The studio says they will announce the release date for the new James Bond movie some time soon.
Answers: 1. Incorrect 2. Correct 3. Incorrect 4. Incorrect 5. Correct 6. Correct 7. Incorrect
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