The words and phrases that can take the form of multiple different parts of speech cause no end of difficulty for writers. How could they not? Since the rules vary, it’s no wonder that so many people run into trouble as they use these shapeshifters in various ways. Nonetheless, it is possible to learn how to use them correctly, and doing so is a worthwhile endeavor. For one thing, it keeps OCD-inclined readers like me from pulling out our hair. More importantly, these little grammatical errors won’t be able to distract from the overall impression of accuracy and professionalism your writing is intended to create.
With that in mind, let’s look at additional words that can appear as one word or two depending on the usage. Remember, the general rule is that when used to communicate an action, they should be separated into two words: one verb and one preposition. When used as an adjective or noun, the two words are combined into one or hyphenated. They are also combined when used as nouns. (This is because these words are almost always adjectives that have become standalone nouns through common use, with the previously associated noun implied.) That sounds harder than it is; examples make the concept easier to grasp and illustrate the pattern:
- Stand (verb) and up (preposition) are appear separately when they convey an action. “Stand up and salute the general.” They are used as a single adjective when describing a noun. “He’s a standup guy I’m proud to call my friend.”
- Stand (verb) and out (preposition) make a two-word verb phrase (e.g. I want this image to really stand out) or a one-word adjective (e.g. She’s a standout candidate who deserves serious consideration).
- Check (verb) out (preposition) that hottie! Then go to the checkout (adjective) counter and I’ll meet you there with the groceries.
Verb phrases are always two words:
- Wrap up the project
- Log out before you leave the computer
- Sit in this chair right beside me
- You may make up the test you missed
- Please take out the garbage
- I’ll just stand alone in the corner
- Everyone should sign up for a shift
Adverbial phrases are also made of separate words:
- I want you to evaluate this idea in depth
But when the very same words are used as an adjective or a noun in a sentence, they must be combined or hyphenated into one word:
- Are you coming to the wrap-up meeting?
- Don’t forget to complete the logout process
- He’s participating in another sit-in (adjective) protest
- There were several arrests at the sit-in (noun)
- You did very well on the makeup test
- Peruse the takeout (adjective) menu
- Let’s order takeout (noun)
- Kittredge is a standalone magnet school
- I’ve completed the in-depth evaluation you asked for
- The signup sheet is in the breakroom
Pro tip: ‘A lot’ is an adverbial phrase, so it takes the form of two words, always. ‘Alot’ is NOT a word and should never, under any circumstances be written.
The issue of combining words when they should stand apart is one that drives me up the wall. I’ll do my best to get over it but hopefully I won’t have to. With this clear explanation, surely the entire world will begin to see the light and take care to separate words into phrases when their use in the sentence calls for this treatment. And if not, at least you won’t make that kind of mistake and your audience will be free to focus on your brilliant content.