One word or two?

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 4th, 2009 at 8:50 PM

Sometimes (or should that be some times?) it’s difficult to know whether something (some thing?) should be written as one word or two. Well, it all depends on context.  Here’s an example.

A stroppy, bored teenager may use the one word version of ‘whatever’ (emphasis on ever for maximum effect of course!) as a retort to a weary parent. Whereas the weary parent may well ask ‘what ever did happen to our sweet, angelic little child?’  I’ll explain the differences later.

I’ve put together a list of words that seem to cause most confusion. It’s by no means exhaustive but I hope you’ll find it useful.

All together now

Altogether means completely or entirely. Example: ‘I’m not altogether sure whether it’s one word or two.’

All together means as a group. Example: ‘All together now, repeat after me.’

Anyone and everyone

Anyone  – any person.  Example: “Does anyone know the answer?”

Any one – use when each word retains its meaning.  Example: Any one of these things will do.

Old Trafford Everyone – every person. Example: “everyone loves Man United” (OK, OK I know that’s not true but you get my drift and it gives me an excuse to use a photo of Old Trafford. Sort of.)

Every one – when each word retains its meaning. Example: “every one of you arrived early.”

Anybody, everybody and somebody

Anybody – any person. Example: “Does anybody know the answer?”

Any body – any group of people – an association or society for example.

Everybody – every person.  Example: “Everybody played really well.”

Every body – when each word retains its meaning. Example: “Every body needs food to grow.” Not a great example, but then you probably wouldn’t use the two word version very often.


Everyday – adjective that means ordinary as in ‘always use everyday words in your writing.’

Every day  – something that happens each day.

For ever and forever

For ever – means for eternity as in ‘I’ll love you for ever‘ (aw!).

Forever – means continually as in ‘I’m forever getting for ever and forever mixed up.’


Near by or nearby

This is a UK/US English thing.

In UK English we distinguish between using near by as an adverb and nearby as an adjective.  Like this:

‘There were no shops near by‘.

‘The nearby shops‘.

In US English nearby is standard.


According to Homework/Study Tips  nevermind  is an old fashioned word.  It means attention or notice when used in a negative sense as in ‘pay no nevermind to that newspaper article’.  Not a usage I’ve ever come across before!

Never mind is standard and means please disregard or pay no attention to that, or don’t worry.

Nevermind Except of course in the title of Nirvana’s classic 1991 album, ‘Nevermind’  but it’s so brilliant we’ll just overlook that it may be old fashioned or incorrect.

Onto or on to?

On to when on is an adverb (or if each word retains its meaning).

as in ‘he walked on to the next station’.

Onto as in ‘she stepped onto the stage.’

There’s also the slang version as in ‘I’ll get onto that right away’.

However, there are some schools of thought, including The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, that say it should always be two words. (aaaggghhh!)



Somebody – some person. Example: “Could somebody please ask Elaine to shut up?” (Don’t you dare.)

Some body – an unspecified group of people such as an organisation or association.

Yeah, whatever.

Whatever when it’s used to mean anything at all, no matter what

What ever when you want to intensify a question. Example: ‘what ever did you mean by that?’

I like this tip from Daily Writing Tips

‘Choosing one word when you mean ‘anything’ and two words when you mean ‘what on earth’ is a good way to choose which form to use.’

Always one word








Always two words

A lot – never, ever alot!

All right – not alright.

Any more – well at least it is in UK English.  Americans and Australians use anymore as in “I can’t do this anymore” (so I’m going to do something else).  They use any more to mean more than as in “I can’t eat any more than three cup cakes in one go.” (Well, OK make that four).



Penguin Concise Dictionary

Penguin ‘Usage and Abusage

The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors

Daily Writing Tips

Wikipedia Homework/Study Tips

The Maverns’ Word of the Day

Acronyms, bacronyms and the wisdom of Humpty Dumpty | Contractions don’t have to be painful

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Hello. I'm Elaine, I'm a copywriter and this is my blog.

It's mostly about words and writing - things that inspire me, entertain me, and make me smile. Sometimes it's about things that horrify me so much I want to scream and shout!

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