This article is to help you understand the difference between confusing expressions and how to use them. You will learn how to use each expression in different sentences correctly. After reading this article, you will become a better writer and reader. You will also be taught the proper way to use these expressions, which means you need to recognize them in other articles or texts.
A Lot or Alot?
A lot or alot? It’s not a subtle difference, but it is an important one.
Here’s the thing: “a lot” and “alot” are two entirely different beasts. The former is a two-word phrase; the latter is an adjective. As you can probably imagine, using them incorrectly can lead to some confusion or make you look foolish.
For example, let’s say that you’re trying to convey that you have a lot of something (correct). If you accidentally write “I have alot of diamonds,” then the most charitable reading would be that your diamonds are quite lovely (incorrect).
Not the end of the world, but wouldn’t it be better if everything was right?
All Together or Altogether?
The difference between “all together” and “altogether” has nothing to do with the word all. It has everything to do with you.
When you want to talk about being in the same place, you must use two l’s.
The two l’s represent people standing next to each other: ll.
We are all together for the Thanksgiving meal. [Everyone is at my house for Thanksgiving.]
I can’t find my keys! Are they in your purse? No, they are not all together! They’re spread out all over the apartment! [My keys aren’t in one place.]
When you want to talk about something being complete or entire, use one l—altogether.
One lonely l stands alone (like an island). This word means entirely or completely: “The new tax plan is altogether unfair—it will hurt middle-class families!”
Everyday or Every Day?
Everyday and every day are commonly confused in English because they look very similar. However, they have different meanings and uses:
“Everyday” is an adjective that means “ordinary.” (adj)
Example: I try to make my everyday routine a bit more interesting by taking a new route to work.
“Every day” is a phrase that means “each day.” (adv)
Example: I try to do something new every day.
Never Mind or Nevermind?
The word nevermind is not a word, so don’t use it. The two-word phrase never mind the one you want to use instead if you’re talking about forgetting something. Never mind: “Hey, what’s the name of that restaurant with the blue chairs?” “Never mind.” It’s a common mistake because the phrase has been popularized in song lyrics and spoken language by people who didn’t bother to look it up first—but there’s no excuse for not knowing which is right!
All Right or Alright?
While “all right” is the correct spelling of this phrase, you may come across it as “alright.” While not incorrect, it’s considered slang and inappropriate for formal writing. The word “alright” has been around since 1837, but it didn’t come into popular use until the early 20th century. It was used to believe that a two-syllable word is better than one with three syllables. Since then, many people have thought of “all right” as long and awkward by comparison. However, “all right” is still preferred, especially in professional and academic writing.
Backup or Back Up?
Backup and back up are different parts of speech, so there is no such thing as “backing someone up” or being “backed up.” You can back someone up (the verb) or give them a backup (the noun).
- Back someone up: If you find yourself in an impossible situation, tell your friend to back you up. Armed with an excuse for your late arrival, you might say to the boss, “My car broke down and I had to wait until Bob could come help me. He backed me up on that.” This phrase has its origins in military terminology and means to provide support. It can mean either emotional support or physical support. Example: Gilly backed her boyfriend when he joined the Army instead of going to college. Or: The students rebel against the oppressive principal’s school rules; they need some teachers who will back them up if they get in trouble.
- Back something up In addition to backing people up when they need help, you can also back something else up—like your computer files or a bus—to ensure it works properly. If your friend is having computer problems and cannot access his files, you might offer him storage space on your external hard drive so he can create a backup of his important data before it’s too late. Vehicles also have backups; this feature allows drivers to reverse without moving their hands from the steering wheel by adding extra buttons that do it for them. Examples: Eric was devastated because his computer crashed, and he hadn’t created a disk backup of all his work for months! Or: The little girl jumped out into the street without looking both ways first; fortunately, the bus driver could back the vehicle far enough away from her that she wasn’t hurt when she ran across traffic!
- Be backed-up: To be backed-up is not a compound word but rather two separate words to express frustration at being stuck waiting at work with a lot of unfinished.
Makeup or Make Up?
Confusingly, all the expressions “makeup,” “make up,” and “make up for” are, in fact, correct, but each one means something slightly different.
- Makeup is a noun that refers to cosmetics (lipstick and powder).
- Make up is a verb that can mean to apply makeup: When I get dressed up, I love to make up my face beautifully. It can also mean fixing something: He made up his bed right after waking up this morning. Or it can mean reconciling: After years of fighting, he finally decided to make things up with his father.
- Make up for means compensating for or mending something: If you missed your friend’s birthday party last year, you might want to make it up by taking her out somewhere special next month.
Workout or Work Out?
If you want to refer to a single exercise session, the word you want is “workout.” For example:
I’m going to do a workout at the gym today.
My mom has ramped up her workouts lately.
However, when describing a series of exercises, use “work out,” as in:
I’ve been working out for years now, and I can’t seem to get buff.
Shawn works out early in the morning before he goes to work.
Pickup or Pick Up?
I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering why this is even a question.
The truth is that many people use these words in the same way, but there are also some very specific contexts where one but not the other will be appropriate.
If you need to lift something off the ground, you will use pick up: “Please pick up your toys—the floor’s a mess!” If you’re talking about someone who has just arrived somewhere (such as from school or work), you can say that their parents picked them up: “My mom picked me up from school.” It could also refer to someone arriving at your home: “I’m looking forward to picking my sister up from the airport.”
What about pickup? This is a shortened spelling of pick-up for two different meanings. One refers to a type of truck with an open back end, and another meaning refers to an act of flirting.
Setup or Set Up?
Setup and set up are two words that should be kept apart—but the English language won’t cooperate. Despite their differences, the two words have confused each other for centuries and will likely continue to do so in the future. We, as a society, must try to guard against this confusion.
To help you understand, here are a few points:
- Setup is used as a noun to refer to all of the actions involved in preparing something (such as an object or event) for use: “The setup of his computer took over an hour.”
- Set up can be used as a verb to organize something or build something like a tent into its final form. It can also mean arranging things to be ready for use: “He set up his easel before painting.” And he set her up with him in common slang, meaning he arranged for them to meet.
- Setup is also an adjective that means organized or prepared: “A suitable setup is required for your new aquarium.”
Wake-Up or Wake Up?
- Wake-up is a noun that refers to the act of waking up. For example, you could say, “My wake-up call didn’t come this morning.” Since it’s a noun, it’s always hyphenated.
- Wake up is a verb that describes the act of waking up. For example, you could say, “I woke up when my alarm clock buzzed.”
Wake-up can also be used to describe something that wakes someone up. For example, you might write about your morning coffee as your favorite wake-up ritual.
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