Grammar

Which do you use? When? What’s the difference? Is there one?

The everyday/every day mix-up is easily one of the most common mistakes I see in my editing work and one of the most common questions I’m asked.

Kinda figured it made sense to address it here. I do mention it in There, Their, They’re as well, and I think I do a pretty good job of it. But recently, I had a brain flash about how to explain it even better.

I’m hereby using that brain flash in this post and reserving the right to reprint it in the second edition of the book. ‘Cause I can do that. 🙂

Every day
This phrase is pretty much what it sounds like: something that happens on a daily basis.

Examples:
I brush my teeth every day.
Every day, I send my kids off to school.
I check the mail every day for another rejection.

It’s easy to know whether to keep the space.

Just ask: Can I add the word “single” between “every” and “day” and have it make sense?

If so, keep the space:

I brush my teeth every single day.
Every single day, I send my kids off to school.
I check the mail every single day for another rejection.

They all work. Woohoo!

Everyday (one word)
Going all technical for a second, this is one word because it’s an adjective. It describes what comes next.

Try replacing “everyday” with a different adjective, one that means something similar, like:

  • regular
  • usual
  • typical
  • normal
  • common

Does the sentence still work?

For example:
Running out of toilet paper around here is an everyday (normal/typical) event.

Her everyday (typical/regular) migraines are debilitating.

Is this type of outburst an everyday (normal/common) occurrence for your daughter?

 

If you notice, those kinds of words don’t work as replacements for the two-word variety (every day):

I brush my teeth every day (typical/normal?).
Every day (regular, common?), I send my kids off to school.
I check the mail every day (usual, normal, typical?) for another rejection.

 

In summary:

Ask: Can you replace the phrase with a word such as regular, typical, normal, common, or usual?

If YES: Make it ONE word, no spaces (everyday). It’s an adjective.

If NO: Use TWO words and a space (every day). The phrase is just referring to a regular time period.

If you’ve decided the phrase needs a space, test it further by adding “single” between “every” and “day,” making it, “every single day.” Does it still make sense? If so, you’re good to go.

See? Easy peasy.

Annette Lyon  is a Whitney Award winner, the recipient of Utah’s Best of State medal for fiction, and the author of nine novels, a cookbook, and a grammar guide, plus over a hundred magazine articles. She’s a senior editor at Precision Editing Group and a cum laude graduate from BYU with a degree in English. When she’s not writing, editing, knitting, or eating chocolate, she can be found mothering and avoiding the spots on the kitchen floor. Find her online at blog.annettelyon.com and on Twitter: @AnnetteLyon.

Need a little extra grammar help? Get Annette’s grammar book, There, Their, They’re: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd.

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Post image for Why Punctuation Matters by Annette Lyon

People joke that I’m the Grammar Nazi.

My critique group says that I know exactly how to use commas (and then they go comatose, and tweet about it, if I try to explain why a semicolon is correct on page 5).

For that matter, rumor has it that when they speak about our group and mention members’ strengths, they bring up punctuation as my strength.

While I do know my fair share of punctuation rules, I do like to hope that in the 12 years I’ve been there I’ve been worth more than fixing comma splices. 🙂

But yes, I do care about punctuation more than the average reader or writer. Why? Because it adds nuance and meaning that nothing else can. The same words can have a totally different meaning with a few different punctuation marks.

This is true with big issues like pacing, tone, and mood.

But to make my point, I’ll go a bit over the top.

First off, read Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots, and Leaves (the title of which is a punctuation joke). If you think punctuation is stale and boring, read that book. I read it on the treadmill and nearly fell off, I was laughing so hard.

Truss has several other titles, including picture books. I own one of them, and my kids love it. My third grader took it to school for show-and-tell. (And probably had to explain it to the class . . .)

 

To make my point about how punctuation can change meaning, here are three fun examples:

1) I’ve seen this one go around Facebook under the guise of, “Punctuation saves lives!”

Let’s eat Grandpa.
(I doubt he’s very tasty)

versus:

Let’s eat, Grandpa.
(Yo, Grandpa, dinner’s ready! I’ll race ya to the table!)

 

2) I saw this one in college during my nerd training (read: English major studies). The professor, a woman, wrote the following sentence on the board:

Woman, without her man, is nothing.

I was rather incensed. Until she changed the punctuation.

Woman: without her, man is nothing.

And then I laughed.

3) One of Lynne Truss’s books, Twenty-odd Ducks, includes a punctuation joke right on the cover with the title. With the hyphen, the title means, “roughly twenty ducks.” If you take the hyphen out, it means, “twenty weird ducks.” So the cover has twenty funky ducks: some that are striped, one ready to go snorkeling, and so on.

Even the subtitle has a play on punctuation: Why, Punctuation Matters

On each page spread, the book has the same sentence but with different punctuation (and therefore different meanings), plus illustrations to match.

You need to get your hands on a copy. Really. As proof, I present my kids’ favorite 2-page spread from the book. It’s gruesome, which may be why they love it.

The first page shows a king strolling near a group of girls bowing and throwing flowers at him as he says, “Ah, life is grand.” The caption reads as follows:

The king walked and talked. Half an hour later, his head was cut off.

The second page makes the whole thing read as one sentence, which changes the meaning drastically:

The king walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off.

Above the caption: three illustrations showing the king decapitated and his head talking (“Why can’t I feel my lips?”) as his body walks around.

Hysterical, if you ask me. At the end of the book, Truss manages (quite brilliantly) to write an entire letter to a school teacher on one page and then changes the meaning entirely using nothing but punctuation on the other.

Convinced that punctuation matters? I hope so. At the very least, remember point number one: punctuation saves lives.

Annette Lyon  is a Whitney Award winner, the recipient of Utah’s Best of State medal for fiction, and the author of eight novels, a cookbook, and a grammar guide, plus over a hundred magazine articles. She’s a senior editor at Precision Editing Group and a cum laude graduate from BYU with a degree in English. When she’s not writing, editing, knitting, or eating chocolate, she can be found mothering and avoiding the spots on the kitchen floor. Find her online at blog.annettelyon.com and on Twitter: @AnnetteLyon.

Need a little extra grammar help? Get Annette’s grammar book, There, Their, They’re: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd.

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Most Common Misspelled Words by Annette Lyon

November 13, 2012
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YourDictionary.com put together a list of the 100 most misspelled words. (Check it: MISSPELLED is one of them. hah!) They even have explanations to help you remember the correct spellings. Find the full list HERE. A few of my favorites: acceptable For some reason, I tend to spell the ending with the other, similar-sounding suffix: […]

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When Passive Voice is OKAY by Annette Lyon

October 16, 2012
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Don’t use passive voice; use active voice. Ever heard that writing rule? It’s a good guideline, for sure, but like any writing rule, exceptions abound. First, what is passive voice? Passive voice shows up when something or someone is being acted upon rather than doing the acting. It’s usually a weak way to construct a […]

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Dangling Participles by Annette Lyon

August 14, 2012
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Dangling participles! They’re loads of fun . . . really! They’re easy to giggle over . . . at least when you find the mistake in someone else’s work (or before yours gets in front of an editor). So what is a dangling participle? It’s a modifier, usually noun, pronoun, or phrase—basically any descriptor—that’s in […]

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The Much Abused Semi-Colon by Annette Lyon

July 17, 2012
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;   Rampant semicolon abuse is so frequent that I just have to post about it in hopes that maybe one person will stop the mistreatment of the poor mark and give it some respect. Or at least keep it from being so regularly misused. Let’s start by getting two things clear: 1) A semicolon […]

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Semi-colons in Fiction

September 16, 2010

How do you feel about the use of semi-colons in fiction, and how and when do you think they should be used? I like semi-colons. They work better in literary, historical or more serious and formal fiction than they do in, say, Middle Grade, YA or very trendy fiction. Like all punctuation, they should be […]

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Grammar is a Non-Issue. NOT!

April 14, 2010

My grammar skills aren’t horrible but they aren’t great either. How much will this hurt me when submitting something to an LDS Publishing House? I had a teacher once say grammar is for your agent and editor…don’t worry about it. How true is that? P.S. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the […]

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Writing Tip Tuesday: Paragraph Length

May 19, 2009

This tip was prompted by a question: At my last writers group meeting, I was told that my paragraphs were way too long. Can you give me an idea of appropriate paragraph length? Is is a certain number of sentences? How do I know when to make a new paragraph? Help! First, let’s define “paragraph”. […]

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