Compound Words and their Meaning

Blog Image

English has a number of peculiarities that make the language confusing for those who are just learning the language. They include homophones, homonyms, compound words, and word pairs which look and sound similar but have entirely different meanings.

Compound words which can be one word or two can be especially confusing. Here we will look at four of these confusing word pairs; everyday vs every day, anytime vs any time, awhile vs a while, sometime vs some time, and someday vs some day.

Everyday vs Every day

Like many compound words, “everyday” and “every day” are typically more confusing in spoken English than in written English since most speakers do not parse the words correctly.

Everyday – This is an adjective; which means “mundane”, “typical”, “ordinary”, or “standard”. The phrase “everyday routine” refers to a normal, ordinary day where nothing unusual occurred. As the English language becomes even less formal, you will occasionally hear people use the word as a noun, sort of a shorthand version of “everyday chores.”

Every day – When written as two words it means “each day”, “every” is an adjective for “day.” One easy way of checking your usage is the replace the work “every” with the word “each” and checking that your sentence still makes sense. For example, “each day routine” is not correct whereas “each day I drink a glass of milk” does.

Anytime vs Any time

This compound word is an example of how the English language has changed. A few decades ago, the accepted standard was to always write “any time” as two words. A few scholars still consider using the compound version to be lazy writing.

  • Anytime [any time] is an adverb which means whenever.

          In almost all cases the two word version and the compound version mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably.

          For example:

          – I am available anytime if you’d like me to help with your move.

          – I am available any time if you’d like me to help with your move.

  • “Any time” [or anytime] can also serve as a conjunction.

          – Anytime we had the chance we would go for a swim.

          – Any time we had the chance we would go for a swim.

  • There are a few instances where any time should be two words.

          1. When the phrase is used with a preposition like “at” two words should be used.

              – I will gladly help at any time of the day or night.

          2. When you are referring to an amount of time the two word version is used.

             – Do you have any time to review my test today?


A While vs Awhile

  • A while – This is a noun phrase meaning an amount of time. One test to ensure that you are using the words correctly is to replace “a while” with another unit of time. If the sentence still makes sense you are using the phrase correctly.

          – It has been a while since I last drank coffee.

          – It has been a month since I last drank coffee.

  • The compound word awhile means “for a time” and is an adverb. One way to check that you are using the word correctly is to replace the word with another adverb.

          – The dog waited awhile for his dinner.

          – The dog waited patiently for his dinner.

Sometime vs Some time

Once again this is an example of the compound word and the two word version being different types of words and having different meanings.

  • Sometime – Sometime can be both an adverb and an adjective.

          1. As an adverb “sometime” means “at some point”.

             – I will finish my landscaping project sometime.

          2. “Sometime” can also be used as an adjective meaning “former.”

             – Tony, a sometime UPS driver, now plays professional poker for a living.

  • Some time – When written as two words “some time” means a “period of time” and is typically used to refer to a long period of time.

           – Jack has lived in this neighbourhood for some time.

Someday vs Some day

  • Someday – This compound word is an adverb and means “at an indefinite time in the future.”

          – Someday I will invest in a new mobile phone but the old one will be ok until I do so.

  • Some day – Some day is an adjective, some, and a noun, day. Some means “unknown” or “unspecified”. When paired with day it means a single day that is unknown.

          – The term paper is due some day in May.


Learning English will improve your chances of Getting a better Job, Earn More Money, Travel Abroad, Study Internationally & Make new international Friends
Start Learning your first English lesson within 5 Minutes!

Registered Students
Language Certificates
Satisfaction Rate

Great site to keep my english skills updated for work and travel. I am really enjoying the lessons!

Maria C
ar   Argentina

Loved the course. Abitlity to improve my grammar and spelling in a step by step method has really helped me. Thanks!

Andre T
fr   France