Thursday, 23 March 2017

Why Spaces Matter in Your Writing

Did you know that "everyday" has a different meaning than "every day?" That's right: if you type up a one-sentence sign and hang it in your workplace, your coworkers could be reading one thing when you meant to write something totally different, and all because of one little space. Write a whole book that way, and ... well, I'm sure you can imagine.

Same goes for:
anytime/any time
backroom/back room

Here's why:

In our examples, the words day, time and room refer to things (in a very broad sense of the term). The words every, any and back tell us something about those things. In fact, they change, or modify, the meanings of the words day, time and room a little bit, so we call them modifiers.

But let's look at these sentences:

The traffic has become so bad here that car accidents are now an everyday occurrence.
Cashews make a great anytime snack.
We need to crack down on corruption and backroom deals

Now everyday, anytime and backroom have become modifiers to the "thing-words" (Grammar nerds call them nouns) occurrence, snack and deals.

So that's the difference:

"Every day" is a modifier followed by a noun. It means all the days in whatever portion of the calendar we're talking about. "Everyday" is just a modifier. It means that whatever we're about to mention next is commonplace, usual, run-of-the-mill. 

"Any time" is a modifier followed by a noun. It means that no time is better or worse than any other. "Anytime" is just a modifier. It means that whatever we're about to mention next isn't pinned down to a particular time. 

"Back room" is a modifier followed by a noun. It means a room at the back of a building or behind some other room. "Backroom" is just a modifier. It means that whatever we're about to mention next is sneaky, underhanded, illegitimate. 

Notice how this sentence changes meaning when we take away a space:


Every day, dishes are broken in this house. (Not a day goes by when dishes are not broken here.)
Everyday dishes are broken in this house. (The dishes that are broken here are ordinary ones.)

I found this ad in the wanted section of the classifieds:

ISO Farm Hand Job

 I'm looking for a part time paid position on a farm. I have much experience with cleaning stalls, turning in horses, feeding, etc. 
 I'm pretty sure the poster meant to say "farmhand."

Spaces matter.