Even as a seasoned writer, I’m not immune to making simple but stupid mistakes. Take the word “jive” for instance …
Ever since I was kicking the slats out of my crib, I thought it meant “to agree with, to be in harmony.” But nnnnnnnnoooooo.
Jive is a language immortalized by the movie Airplane. The word that I should have been using was “jibe.”
Here’s the thing, the English language is full of pitfalls — simple errors that can alienate readers, turn off subscribers, and annoy buyers.
This is why Copyblogger has historically put a heavy emphasis on correct spelling, usage, and grammar. You may have seen articles like:
- 15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly
- The Inigo Montoya Guide to 27 Commonly Misused Words
- 10 Grammar Mistakes that Can Keep Your Content from Spreading
And when you’ve been doing this as long as we have, you’re going to discover even more common errors.
The most recent for me has been a host of compound words. Let me show you what I mean …
Never mind v. nevermind
Let’s blame Kurt Cobain, because ever since the poster child for Generation X’s winter of discontent christened Nirvana’s world-altering album Nevermind, I’ve always spelled “never mind” as a compound word.
But, as Cobain knew, that’s grammatically incorrect — to a degree. See, the compound word nevermind is actually an old fashioned way of saying “notice” or “pay attention,” but used in a negative style:
You’ll do well to pay Cobain no nevermind.
You’ll never need to use “no nevermind” in a sentence, since “pay attention” or “notice” will work better. But do use the two-word variation when you mean “please ignore.”
Never mind what I just said.
A lot v. alot
This one’s pretty easy.
“A lot” is an idiom, and means “very much.”
Brian rocks out a lot when he listens to Nevermind.
“Alot,” on the other hand, isn’t a word, so you shouldn’t use it. Ever. People will laugh at you.
By the way, don’t confuse “a lot” with “allot,” which means to distribute or give out.
I will allot four donuts to each of you. That’s a lot of donuts.
All together v. altogether
One means “as a group,” while the other means “completely” or “entirely.”
He stacked the records all together, and the collection amounted altogether to four hundred.
Every day v. everyday
The single word can be used as a noun or adjective. It expresses the routine, the commonplace.
The two word phrase, however, expresses duration or time.
He listens to Nevermind every day on his everyday record player.
All right v. alright
This one is a little tricky because they both mean the same thing: okay, very well, satisfactory, certainty, or safe.
I’m all right if you’re alright.
However, the single word is informal, which is why you’ll get the red squiggly lines in WordPress or Word if you try to use it. The preferred use is two words, all right? Better yet, to avoid reader confusion, be specific:
Are you safe? Is that paper satisfactory?
Compound v. verb phrases
Now let me introduce you to a special set of compound words that change in meaning and shape when they are being used as a verb, adjective, or noun … and can cause all kinds of problems.
The verb form usually consists in two words:
- I need to back up my WordPress site.
- Did you set up the camera?
- You need to make up the exam before October.
- We are trying to work out our differences.
- Stop by the office and pick up your money.
- I couldn’t wake him up on time because I couldn’t wake up myself!
The compound usually serves as an adjective:
- Do you have a backup copy of your site?
- I lost the setup instructions.
- The makeup exam is on October 1.
- Marathon runners have insane workout programs.
- Watch out, he’s a pickup artist.
- Hit the wakeup button!
Or the compound can serve as a noun:
- I wish I had a backup of my site.
- That was a setup.
- She puts loads of makeup on her face.
- That workout makes people vomit.
- There’s been a pickup in business.
- What time is wakeup?
What’s the big deal?
You might wonder why we
flip out over stress the importance of accurate grammar and usage. Well, there are a couple of reasons …
- You look silly or unprofessional when you don’t get it right. Don’t think the proofreading police aren’t watching. They are. And they never sleep.
- Great writers not only struggle with their words and getting ideas down on paper accurately, but with fine tuning everything — including their usage.
Sharpening the saw in the small stuff is a healthy habit for writers … no matter how long they’ve been in the business.
So, any time you think you might be using a word incorrectly, look it up. You’ll keep people from laughing at you, and get a little smarter in the process.