Determining When to Combine Words

Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

This lesson highlights some of the common mistakes we make with combining words or deciding to separate them. You will get the lowdown on the rules to use to get them right and test your knowledge in a quiz.

Common Misuses

Do you ever notice that there are some words that actually include two smaller words, such as 'sometimes', 'maybe' and 'anyone'? Yet in another situation those same words end up written out separately.

How can you tell when these words should appear as one and when they should appear separately?

This lesson covers how to ensure that the words and sentences we develop are grammatical. A grammatical sentence is one that follows the rules of the language.

We'll use examples of sentences that are incorrect because the words should actually be combined into one word. Other examples will have only one word that really should be separated into two words. In a few cases, context will help determine whether to combine the words or not.

Words to Combine Together

Let's start with the examples where words should typically be combined together.

  • Incorrect: Some one should really eat his beef jerky some where else.
  • Corrected: Someone should really eat his beef jerky somewhere else.

Frequently, the word 'some' works in connection with words like 'where' and 'one'. When these words appear together, they often need to be combined. Another example that fits this category would be the word 'somewhat'.

  • Incorrect: She's every where you don't want her to be.
  • Correct: She's everywhere you don't want her to be.

The two words - 'every' and 'where' - should be combined to correct the sentence.

  • Incorrect: What ever you want to do is fine by me.
  • Correct: Whatever you want to do is fine by me.

As with other examples in this category, 'whatever' is typically used only as one word. You may find examples where a writer has chosen to separate this (such as, 'What ever happened to that band I used to like?') but there is controversy about whether this is correct grammar.

Phrases to Separate into Two Words

Next, let's look at cases where you'll always want two words rather than one. All of the examples here are common mistakes, so you probably see these frequently.

  • Incorrect: We don't want to wake up that enormous mountain lion, alright?
  • Correct: We don't want to wake up that enormous mountain lion, all right?

Whether we're using these words to end a sentence with a question as in the example above (meaning 'got it?'), or when we include it within a sentence ('Are you feeling alright?'), most grammar experts argue that the use of the word 'alright' is incorrect. In this case, it's best to stick with the two word format. Instead, remember this one by thinking of the following statement: Separate out 'all right' into two words, 'all' of the time.

  • Incorrect: Noone should be forced to watch reality shows against their will.
  • Correct: No one should be forced to watch reality shows against their will.

Unlike 'someone', 'no one' appears as two separate words. It may help to remember this one by thinking of how there will be 'no time' (two words) when 'no one' appears together. Occasionally, you may see this written as no-one, which some may accept as grammatical, but never write them together as 'noone'.

  • Incorrect: I have alot of sauerkraut on my hot dog.
  • Correct: I have a lot of sauerkraut on my hot dog.

Grammar experts believe there's a rampant illness going around. It's called the 'Alot Sickness'. What is this illness? It's writing the phrase 'a lot' incorrectly!

In the future, when you are trying to remember whether 'a lot' is one word or two, think about the 'Alot Sickness' as a funny way to remember not to use these two words together.

How to Combine Words Based on Context

Let's finish with the examples where context impacts whether to combine or separate the words. In these examples, the decision of whether to combine the words is determined by the part those words play in the sentence.

  • Incorrect: It maybe your intention to train your cat, but may be you'll end up with claw marks on your face.
  • Correct: It may be your intention to train your cat, but maybe you'll end up with claw marks on your face.

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