Tips from a Poor Speller

One of the first things I do when I begin editing a new manuscript is create a style sheet, an alphabetical list of words I look up while I'm working on the project. Each time I look up a word—which is often, since I'm a terrible speller—I list it on the style sheet. In the age of spell-check (yes, I had to look that up), I've noticed that the most common errors don't involve putting letters in the wrong order. Rather, they have to do with whether a spelling is open like face up or closed like faceup or hyphenated like face-up

What's the difference, you might ask? (And who cares? you might also ask, but I'll pretend I didn't hear that one.) Well, the different spellings indicate what role each word or term is playing in a sentence, and the spelling has to match the role. For example, I might see the verb face up, in a sentence like this one: “It was time for Leslie to face up to the fact that Jon wasn't coming home.” In contrast, I might see the adverb faceup or face-up in a sentence like this one: “The body was lying face-up in the ditch.”*

Another example: “I work out several times a week. Each of my workouts lasts an hour.” When used as a verb, work out is two words. When used as a noun, workout is one word. Similar terms include log in (verb) and login (noun); and grown up (verb) and grownup (noun). Starting to see a pattern?

The most common (and to me, the most annoying) error of this type occurs when people write everyday (an adjective) when they mean every day (an adverb). If you need an adjective that means “usual,” you'll write everyday, as in “I wore my everyday clothes to the grocery store.” Because it is an adjective, everyday always needs a noun to modify—in this case clothes; it cannot stand alone at the end of a sentence—or anywhere else for that matter. 

Every day is an adverb, so it modifies the verb in a sentence. It answers the question “When?” If you need a phrase to indicate that you do something on a daily basis, you'll write every day: “I go to the store just about every day.” At least I hope that's what you'll write.


*The Merriam-Webster Dictionary prefers faceup, but the American Heritage Dictionary lists face-up first. Both spellings are acceptable for the adverb form of the word. I prefer the hyphenated version because it's consistent with other similar terms, such as chest-up, which I think would look strange in the closed version.

Heidi Bell