STS – 2015 Dec – Word Trippers: Do You Know the Difference?

Word Trippers: Do You Know the Difference? by Barbara McNichol

Do you write blogs, articles, books or marketing emails? Regardless of the type of writing you do, if you know how to write with precision and accuracy, your professional reputation will build and your career can soar.

Editor Barbara McNichol was a deep dive presenter in the writing/publishing stream at the conference in Halifax. When I asked what might be one of the biggest writing challenges writers have, she mentioned the one word or two word confusion. Do you know when you should use ‘altogether’ versus ‘all together’ or ‘roundup’ versus ‘round up’?

Here are some great examples of top pairs that confuse writers. To see more, check out Barbara’s book, Word Trippers: The Ultimate Source for Choosing the Right Word When It Really Matters.

Any time, anytime – The two-word phrase “any time” means whenever, regardless of hour, date, etc. The single word “anytime” means always, invariably, without doubt or exception. “You may challenge me to a race at any time.” “I can perform better than that racer anytime.”

Anyway, any way – The one-word version means “in any case” while the two-word version refers to possibilities. “I know there isn’t any way for you to see me today; I’ll deliver the proposal anyway.” (Note: never use “anyways.”)

Altogether, all together – The adverb “altogether” means entirely, completely, utterly. “That commute was altogether too long and boring.” The adjective phrase “all together” refers to a combination or group. “Those new factors taken all together reveal a different conclusion.”

Already vs. all ready – The single word is an adverb that modifies a verb or adjective. “The cat is already out of the bag.” The two-word phrase refers to being complete. “The assignment is all ready to turn in.”

Alright vs. all right – Although the one-word version is a variation of the two-word phrase, it is considered to be wrong or less acceptable than all right. “Is it all right if I search your house?”

Awhile, a while – The dictionary says “awhile” means “for a while” (that is, for a period of time). Therefore, it’s redundant to say “for awhile”; it’s like saying “for for a while.” “Let’s get together awhile. We can enjoy visiting for a while.”

Back yard, backyard – This noun refers to a yard at the back of a house or other structure; it can also refer to a familiar or nearby area; neighborhood. Some dictionaries show this as  one word, some as two words. “Residents oppose the city council approving a landfill in their backyard (back yard).” But when used as an adjective, it’s one word, not two. “Join us for a backyard barbecue.”

Carryon vs. carry-on vs. carry on – “Carryon” is an adjective describing a noun, as in a carryon bag for traveling; “carry-on” has become slang for a piece of luggage. “Carry on” is a verb phrase meaning to keep doing something. “Carry on to the airplane’s door with your carryon luggage (or your carry-on).”

Every day, everyday – In the two-word adverbial phrase, “day” refers to the time between sunrise and sunset; “every” describes the word day. “Every day we call our customers.” Everyday (without a space) is an adjective that precedes the noun it describes. “It’s an everyday occurrence.”

Everyone vs. every one – “Everyone” means every person within the reference; “every one” refers to each person or thing within a group, without exception. “Everyone on the team showed up at the game. Every one of those team members speaks a different language.”

Follow up vs. follow-up vs. followup – “Follow up” as a verb phrase refers to doing something more, e.g., to carry to completion or to take further action. When used as a noun, it may be one word or hyphenated; used as an adjective, the phrase requires a hyphen. “Follow up the written invitation with an email. The follow-up (or followup) should occur two days later. Use strong language in your follow-up message.”

Handout vs. hand out – “Handout” is a noun meaning something that’s given away; it also refers to printed material distributed at a gathering. “Having a handout from the talk makes it easy to remember the information.” “Hand out” is a verb phrase meaning to give or distribute; pass around. “People hand out leaflets at every political rally.”

Layout vs. lay out – “Layout” is a noun referring to a plan, arrangement, or sketch. “We liked the layout of the model home.” “Lay out” is a verb phrase meaning to prepare or spread out in some order or arrangement. It also means to plan, plot, or design, as well as to get a corpse ready for burial. “Lay out the bricks so you can see the pattern before setting them in concrete.”

Let down, letdown – The two-word verb phrase “let down” means to disappoint; fail; betray; slacken; abate. The one-word noun “letdown” indicates a decrease in volume, force, energy; disillusionment, discouragement, or disappointment. “Too near success to let down in our efforts, we clearly wanted to avoid a severe letdown.”

Login vs. log in – Use two words when you take an action to enter an account. “I log in to my bank account records every day.” Use one when referring to the actual sign-in. “Don’t tell anyone your login information.”

Makeup vs. make up – “Makeup” is a noun referring to facial cosmetics. “She wears makeup like she’s a Hollywood star.” “Make up” is a verb phrase with many applications. It means to constitute, construct, form, concoct, or invent; to conclude, perform or put in order something unresolved (like a relationship) or not done (like a test). “Make up a story. Make up your bed. Make up your mind.” It also refers to dressing up and applying cosmetics.

Online vs. on line – The conventional use when referring to computer connections is one word only. “Do you do most of your work online?” It’s customary to say “on the line” rather than “on line” when you’re not referring to computers.

Pickup vs. pick up – Use two words when you want to lift or get something. “I pick up a local newspaper from the grocery store every Sunday.” Use one word when referring to a kind of vehicle. “I park the pickup (truck) in the driveway because it won’t fit in the garage.”

Roundup vs. round up – The noun “roundup” originally referred to the driving together of cattle or horses and the people who do this. It also refers to the gathering of scattered items or groups of people (e.g., a police roundup of suspects). The verb phrase “round up” means to gather things or people. “I have to round up supplies for a fundraising event called the Roundup, which brings together interested people from all over.”

Rollout vs. roll out – The noun “rollout” refers to the introduction or launch of a new product or service. As a verb phrase, “roll out” means to spread out or flatten (e.g., to roll out dough); to arise from bed; to launch a new product or service. “The agency designed an advertising campaign to roll out the new product, scheduling its rollout for early fall.”

Sign up vs. signup (sign-up) – “Sign up” is a verb phrase meaning to enlist, as in an organization or group; to register or subscribe. “I sign up for a class.” As a noun, “signup” (or sign-up) refers to the act of enrolling or subscribing. When used as an adjective, it has a hyphen. “Use the sign-up sheet to sign up for the new ezine.”

Sometime vs. some time – “Sometime” refers to an indeterminate point of time: He will arrive sometime next week. As two words, “some time” means an unspecified interval or period. “It will take some time for the wounds to heal. It’s wise to see the doctor about it sometime.”

Stand alone vs. standalone (stand-alone) – As a verb phrase, “stand alone” means to take a stand by oneself. “They stand alone in their support of the new requirement.” As an adjective, “standalone” means self-contained, able to operate without other hardware or software. “Unlike a printer, a fax machine is a stand-alone device because it does not depend on other equipment to operate.” As a noun, a standalone (or stand-alone) is a device or program with these characteristics.

Standby vs. stand by – Use two words when you refer to an action. “Stand by for the latest news.” Use one word when you’re in a waiting mode. “Put your computer on standby while you’re on the phone.”

Touch down vs. touchdown – The two-word verb phrase “touch down” means coming into contact with the ground (like an airplane). In North American football, the one-word noun “touchdown” occurs when the team with possession of the ball crosses the opponent’s goal line. In aviation, as a noun, it is the act of landing, for example: the aircraft’s touchdown was perfect. “A plane that touches down on the runway after a rough flight can prompt grateful cheers among the passengers, just as a winning touchdown does among a team’s fans.”

Turn around vs. turnaround – The two-word verb phrase refers to reversing the direction or course of something or someone. “Good consulting firms consistently turn around failing businesses.” As a noun, “turnaround” means the total time for a process, or the round trip of a vehicle or other conveyance; also a change of allegiance, opinion, mood, policy, etc. “The short turnaround from galley proof to publication surprised everyone.” The adjective form is also turnaround (no hyphen).

Wellbeing (well-being) vs. well being – “Wellbeing” or “well-being” means a state characterized by health, happiness, and prosperity. “Well being” is not an alternative. “Getting plenty of rest supports your wellbeing (well-being) every day.”


Barbara McNichol is passionate about helping business professionals add power to their pen. To learn more about her  free resources on line, go to


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