grammar lesson online - verbs and adverbs

Grammar Shorts: Troublesome Pairs

I never made a mistake in grammar but one in my life and as soon as I done it I seen it.

~Carl Sandburg~

By Jayne Bodell


Let’s take a look at troublesome pairs that can often trick writers. Writing about writing creates a never-ending subject matter. The flip side of that coin is that it can also cramp the writing process. You start critiquing every word to the point that writing slows to a trickle.
I had this happen recently when I came to the word maybe. I panicked. My mind blanked. Should this be two words or one? And then it mushroomed. What about anytime, everyday, anybody? The list could go on and on. Have I been using these correctly? Oh my god! My career as a grammar queen is over!
When I finally calmed down, after a long walk off a short grammar pier, I realized I had been using these words correctly. As a native English speaker and a lifelong reader, I innately knew the correct word or words to use. I had forgotten the reasons why we use one word or two.
Example: Maybe we’ll watch the movie together.
If you can substitute the word perhaps for maybe then it’s one word. Maybe is an adverb, so it’s going to modify the verb of the sentence. Maybe is modifying the verb watch.
If you think that you should be using may be, here is your test. May is a modal verb which means possibility, and you can substitute might.
Example: This may (might) be the best grammar blog I have ever read.
There are other troublesome words that you may not realize you’re using incorrectly. I’ll try to provide a simple explanation which is not always possible when talking about grammar.
Here’s one that I know that I often forget: awhile/a while. Do you know that awhile is an adverb that means “for a while”? When you say, I think I’ll watch the stars for awhile, you’re really saying I think I’ll watch the stars for for a while. The sentence should read, I think I’ll watch the stars for a while.
Another tricky one to watch for is all right/alright. Alright is still considered nonstandard English. These days the experts tell us to write in a conversational style. That doesn’t mean nonstandard English, so remember to use all right and not alright.
I shouldn’t have to remind you about this annoying error, but it goes along with the previous problem, so I’ll mention it: alot/a lot. Alot is not a word, never, ever. Now repeat that previous sentence five times, say ten Hail Marys and promise never to write alot again.
Example: It is not all right to use “alot.”
The every day/everyday shouldn’t be a problem for too many writers, but it’s a good idea to check this pair, too. Everyday is an adjective that means “daily,” and we all know that adjectives modify nouns.
Example: If I wrote every day, writing would be an everyday occurrence.
Everyday is modifying occurrence, the noun.
I could burden you with more troublesome pairs, but I’ll refrain. We grammar lovers could talk about this stuff for hours. We can go on and on about our pet peeves, and how we’d like to anonymously send our managers a grammar book. I’ll leave that for my therapist.
I know what it’s like to be in the writing groove. Those luscious words spill onto the computer screen. All of a sudden, the flow is interrupted with the dreaded question, “Is that the right word?” I urge you to keep going my friends, and when you’re ready to check, keep this article in your cheat sheet box.
I, on the other hand, am not able to keep going because I haven’t learned how. I’m working on it, and only time will tell if I can leave the “paralysis by grammar” behind.
Suffice it to say that being a grammar nerd is a burden, but it’s one that I’m willing to bear for my fellow writers. I may not be able to answer all your questions, but rest assured that I will be able to direct you to the proper reference.
Remember my motto: To be an expert you don’t need to know all the answers, you just need to know where to find them.

Monthly Contributor: Jayne Bodell

Jayne Bodell graduated from UW-Madison with an English degree many, many years ago. About two years ago, she renewed her interest in writing by starting a blog about grammar but soon realized that she wanted to expand her subject matter. She now blogs about keeping life simple, smart, and sassy at In between blog posts, she’s planning to branch into the scary world of writing fiction by writing a collection of flash fiction stories.
Jayne lives in Wisconsin and fills her spare time with gardening, photography, knitting, reading, and a side of coloring. Her favorite way to vacation is to pick a general destination and drive, no time constraints and no plans.


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  1. Jayne, as always great advice. I was thinking particularly what you said about awhile and a while, then alot and a lot. The first ‘awhile’ was hardly used when I was young, but has crept into the language more recently. “Alot” used to catch me out a lot when I was young, till I got it into my thick head that it was two words. What is interesting if that the spell checker doesn’t mark “awhile” as being in error.

    • Interesting story Peter. I’m pretty old and don’t remember a time when a while wasn’t used. I do remember when we used “lend” and not “loan” as the verb.

  2. Jayne – I bite my tongue so many times to avoid correcting others’ grammar, spelling, and punctuation (and pronunciation, apparently!). One mistake you pointed out, i.e. ‘alot’ rather than ‘a lot’, makes me want to scream. Another one (VERY popular) is ‘anyways.’ Oh, my word!! NO!! There is no such word as ‘anyways’!!! I am so happy to know it’s not just me. Oh, and two examples of mispronunciation just came to me that bother me too much, I’m sure, but when I share the reason they are so troublesome, I bet you will understand. The first is the word ‘accreditation’, and the reason it bothered me so much when people pronounced it ‘accredidation’ (‘d’ sound instead of ‘t’) is because it was typically professors (!!!) (when I was in college) who were mispronouncing it. It was a facet of THEIR field, THEIR niche in the world. How could they possibly not know how to pronounce it?! The other one, which is current and ongoing, is the startling number of meteorologists who leave out the second ‘e’ when saying, as they conclude the weather forecast on TV or radio, “This is metorologist _________.” Oh, my word! This is your PROFESSION! This is what you DO! How can it be that you don’t know how to pronounce what you do for a living?! And because some of them DO know how to pronounce it and say it quite effortlessly, I know it’s not the difficulty of the word that causes other folks to leave out that ‘e.’ ….Well, thanks for being a kindred spirit and the (uncommon) soul who will not frown at me for sharing a few of my English language pet peeves! Have a blessed day! Thanks for sharing your helpful post! 🙂 Barbara

    • Barbara, you’re proof that we could go on for hours talking about this stuff. One of my pet peeves, and it may be regional, is when someone says “yous” for the plural of you. Thanks for your comments because they gave me an idea for my next post. 🙂

  3. Your articles are filling my cheat box! Thank you for this clarification. It seems to me when God made me a writer he could have given me some spelling and grammar skills too. But then I wouldn’t need a community of people to help speak into my life. Thanks for being a grammar nazi…I need one. 🙂

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