Basics of writingConfusing words

One word or two?–More word confusion issues

From Rick:

Better late than never as they say. Back in September (9/17 to be precise), I promised to clarify the usages of the words below and never got around to it.

anytime vs. any time
anymore vs. any more
everyone vs. every one (anyone/any one)
everybody vs. every body (everyone/ every one)

onto vs. on to
into vs. in to

When you have multiple projects vying for your attention, it’s easy to forget stuff like this. So, let’s tackle them now. Actually, if you think about the first four, they’re not hard to keep straight, especially if you look at the grammar. Oh, wait, you say you’re not good at grammar? The truth is that you probably know more than you think. You’ve likely forgotten (or repressed) some of it, so let’s do a quick refresher on nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs, so things will be clearer.

Nouns are things or the names of things or places: spoon, flower, dream, river, city, time, body, one (if the sense of a specific individual as in “He is the one.”).

Pronouns take the place of nouns: he, him, she, it, one (as in “He is one of her friends.”).

Adjectives describe nouns and pronouns. They answer questions such as what kind? how much? which one?: blue, pretty, loud, hot, every, any (as in “any time”).

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs and typically answer such questions as when? where? how? how often? how much? why? to what extent?: later, never, there, outside, carefully, only, frequently, hardly.

With that under our belts, let’s examine our first four confusing word sets.

“Anytime” is an adverb. I can go with you anytime that is convenient. It could happen anytime now.

“Any time” is an adjective-noun phrase. I don’t have any time to go to the movies today. Is there any time that’s best for you? In these examples, “time” is the key concept. You could replace “any” with another phrase: I don’t have a convenient time to go to the movies today. Is there a time that’s best for you? Consider rewording in a similar manner to help you decide which form to use. If you can’t replace “any” with another word or words, then it should be two words.

“Anymore” and “any more” follow the same rules. I don’t know what to do anymore. “Anymore” is an adverb because it answers the “when” question. I don’t have any more to give you. In this case, “more” is a pronoun because it refers an additional number of unspecified things: I don’t have any more (money / ideas / food / things / effort) to give you. Clear?

The same holds for “everyone/every one” and “everyboy/every body” and also for anyone, anybody, nobody, etc. But note that “no one” is always two words except that UK usage sometimes uses the hyphenated form “no-one.”

After the simulated massacre, if we all work together, everyone of us will be able to carry every one of the dummy bodies outside. Each volunteer can select any body he chooses. If anyone doesn’t want to assist with this job, he can ask anybody with a clipboard to assign him to any one of the other clean up tasks.

On to (or is it “onto”?) the next piece of this topic.

The difference between onto/on to and into/in to are a bit more complicated to understand at first, but I’ll try to give you some rules. I found a good discussion on–onto vs. on to Especially look at the comments for more examples.

The decision whether to use one word or two comes down to the word usage. Remember that “onto” and “into” are prepositions of movement or position and as such are followed typically by a noun or pronoun that is the object of the movement. The article suggests using “up” as the test word to determine that: He climbed (up) onto the roof. However, that doesn’t work in all cases. You would “fall onto the floor.”

The problems come more when using verb phrases such as “hold on” or “log on.” And here is where one must be aware of the fine points of the language. We say “hold on to a railing” because the verb is “to hold on” (to grasp) and “log on” means “to sign on.” I’ve run into other situations where it’s unclear which form one should use. Unfortunately, one must dissect the meaning to know which to use.

To answer the phrase I opened this section with, we would say, “Let’s move on to the next topic.” The verbal expression is “to move on” (and in “to continue” or “move ahead”). We’d say, “Let’s move ahead to the next topic.” So, it’s two words (on to).

The same logic applies with into/in to. Some examples: Water poured into the basement during the flood. Count me in to go to the movie. Without considering the consequences, I rushed into the middle of the fight.

Again, comes through.–into vs. in to. Study this article.

It’s interesting that the article has provided one very instructive example with “I’m going to turn the wallet I found in to the police.” The verb phrase is “to turn in” and it has two meanings. One is the sense of handing to, and the other is the colloquialism “to turn in” meaning to go to bed. However, in the latter sense, we might extend the phrase with a different preposition: I’m going to turn in for the night. Thankfully there’s no such preposition or word “infor” (unlike into) to cause more confusion.

There’s another phrase we need to examine here: “to turn into” (in the sense of the change or transform). What if we had mistakenly said above, “I’m going to turn the wallet I found into the police.” Such a sentence might cause the reader to wonder what ability I possessed that could permit me to transform a wallet into a policeman or policemen.

I hope this has been instructive and fun. I know it’s sometimes frustrating trying to figure out the correct wording, but that’s part of our job as writers. Such discussions may seem like nitpicking, but they’re not. The average reader is likely not going to care or be confused. Astute ones will notice and, at the very least, have a good laugh. At the worst, they will examine your writing more closely and decide if they want to subject themselves to the writing of someone who does care enough to get it right.

Scott and I aren’t trying to embarrass any one of you (why did I use “any one” and not “anyone” here?), but to help you become better and more discriminating writers.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.