Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0: One Word or Two?


Every Wednesday, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 features handy tips to enhance all of our writing, from daily emails to articles to books. After all, everyone needs to write, right?

Do you have those words that, no matter how hard you try, you just can't remember if they are supposed to be one word or two? The ones that don't look right, even after spell checker assures they've been typed correctly? Here are a few I routinely look up.

Awhile vs. a while

This one is tricky, in that awhile is an adverb, and a while is a noun phrase meaning “length of time.”

She plans to be in England awhile.

She plans to stay in England for a while.

Breakup vs. break up

Breakup is a noun meaning the dissolving of a relationship. Break up is the verb form.

The breakup hurt Missy more than she had thought.

Riot police could not break up the protests in the downtown streets.

Cannot vs. can not

Although technically both forms may be used, cannot is more accepted in modern language.

I cannot understand why the Packers won last night.

Everyone vs. every one

Every one means each individual item. When referring to all of the people, use everyone.

Every one of the roads was blocked.

Everyone agreed the fish smelled a little wonky.

Straight away vs. straightaway

Though probably heard more on your favorite British period drama than on American streets, straight away is an adverb that means "right away" or "at once." straightaway is the straight portion of a roadway or racecourse.

I'll call her straight away.

Danica Patrick pulled ahead to take the lead on the straightaway.

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These books are on my desk at all times. Maybe they'll help you as well.

The Associated Press Stylebook, 2017 edition
The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition
Strunk and White's The Elements of Style
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition


A professional writer/editor for almost 30 years, Karen Wojcik Berner's wide and varied experience includes such topics as grammar, blog content, book reviews, corporate communications, the arts, paint and coatings, real estate, the fire service, writing and literature, research, and publishing. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women's Fiction Writers, Naperville Magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of the Bibliophiles series, contemporary fiction with a sprinkling of the classics, and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. For more information on Karen, please visit www.karenberner.com.


angel011 said…
Can't seems like an easy solution. :)
It is, angel011. It’s nit so convenient for the other examples.
R. Doug Wicker said…
Awhile vs. a while is the one that always gets me into trouble.
Me, too, R. Doug. That was the first pairing I thought of when I decided to write about this topic.

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