In this edition of “Notes from the Proofreader” we’ll look at a few pairs of words and two-word phrases that are often confused with each other: awhile and a while, everyday and every day, and everyone and every one. Oh, what a difference one little space can make. It can affect meaning, grammatical function, or both. But there are tricks that will help you determine whether to use one word or two.
Awhile or A While?
First off, let’s direct our gaze at awhile and a while. The one-word awhile is an adverb meaning “for a short time.” The two-word a while is a noun phrase that means “a period of time that’s usually short,” and it’s often preceded by either for or in. The shift in meaning is subtle, so how do you know if you’ve used the right one? Well, if you can replace awhile in your sentence with another adverb you’ll know you got it right. For example, in “I’m going to rest awhile” you can change awhile to the adverb quietly and it will still make sense. On the other hand, if a time-related noun phrase sounds better as a replacement (think an hour, a day, a week, etc.), then you’ll know it should be the two-word a while. For example, in “I’m going to rest for a while” you can change a while to an hour with ease.1
Everyday or Every Day?
Next, let’s turn our attention to everyday and every day. Everyday as one word is an adjective that’s used to describe something as ordinary, routine, or typical. Add a space and you get every day, which is an adverbial phrase that describes the how often something happens. An easy way to tell if you’re using the right one is to try replacing every with each and see if your sentence still makes sense. If you can, then every day is correct. If not, then you should be using everyday.2 For example, you can “correct everyday mistakes every day,” and you can “correct mistakes each day,” but trying to “correct each day mistakes” doesn’t really make sense.
Everyone or Every One?
Lastly, let’s take a gander at everyone and every one. In this case the space does not affect function since both are used as pronouns, but it does have an effect on the meaning. Everyone refers to the entirety of a group of people, and it’s interchangeable with everybody. Every one is another way of saying each,and it puts an emphasis on the individuals in a group.3 Also, every one is the one you want to use if a prepositional of phrase follows it.4 So all you need to do is decide whether your focus is on the group (everyone) or if it’s on the individuals (every one). For example, “everyone is expected to attend the all-hands meeting” but “we’d like to thank every one of you who attended the meeting.”