English English language Etymology Grammar Usage Word origin

Everyday vs. every day

Q: This one riles me to no end. Even the most intelligent people use “everyday” for “every day.” I began to notice it a couple of years ago, as if it started with one person and caught on like wildfire. Please tell me I’m not mistaken: If you want an adjective, it’s one word. If you mean something occurs every day, it’s two words.

A: You’re not mistaken. Generally the single word is an adjective (“He’s wearing everyday clothes”) and the two-word phrase functions as either a noun (“Every day is an adventure”) or an adverb (“She gardens every day”).

However, the use of “everyday” for “every day” isn’t all that new. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage has examples going back more than three decades.

Here’s one from the November 1980 issue of Vogue: “Everyday I see or read about women in similar roles.”

“This form may well get into dictionaries someday,” Merriam-Webster’s editors say, “but for now the two-word styling for the adverbial phrase is still more common.”

In her grammar and usage book Woe Is I, Pat gives these examples of “everyday” and “every day” at play: “I just love my everyday diamonds,” said Magda. “That’s why you wear them every day,” said Eva.

We should add here that the single word can also be used as a noun meaning a typical or ordinary day. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, gives these two examples of this less common usage:

“I wore this dress—I wear it for everyday” (Eudora Welty).

“The trite and feeble language of everyday” (Clyde S. Kilby, an American author and educator).

Interestingly, the adjective was actually two words connected with a hyphen when it showed up in English in the 1600s.

The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from The City Madam, a comedy that the English dramatist Philip Massinger wrote sometime before 1640: “Few great Ladies going to a Masque … out-shine ours in their every-day habits.”

Charles Dickens was still hyphenating the adjective two centuries later. Here’s an example from The Old Curiosity Shop (1841): “Mr. Quilp invested himself in his every-day garments.”

The OED’s first example of the adjective written as a single word is from Edward Augustus Freeman’s The History of the Norman Conquest (1868): “Treason is spoken of as an everyday matter.”

Etymology aside, standard dictionaries now list the adjective as one word. And usage guides say the two-word phrase acts as a noun or an adverb.

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