Grammar Booty Call: Compounded 1 Comment

Grammar Booty Call: Compounded

Several things can go awry when a straightforward linguistic construction (John eats doughnuts) is complicated by compounds of various sorts (John and Joe eat a lot of doughnuts, and every time they leave their seat with a takeaway bag for mum and me).

Let’s look at each compound in that sentence.

John and Joe 

This is perhaps the most common form of compound: putting two nouns together into a noun phrase, which then increases the noun phrase’s ‘grammatical number’ from singular to plural: John eats but John and Joe eat (note the omitted s in eat).

A similar case is when two verbs act in conjunction: John buys and eats meat.

a lot

As Allie of the blog Hyperbole and a Half has pointed out, there’s no such word as alot.

(Illustration of the Alot, used as this post’s feature image, courtesy of the aforementioned blog.)


Get some dough, roll it into 15-centimetre-long pieces, then connect each piece’s two ends into a circle. Bake or deep-fry. (Optional: coat with heaps of sugar.) Bam.

every time

A friend recently asked (and I quote): ‘Is everytime a word or should there be a space and Britney Spears just taught us incorrectly?’

Short answer: Britney Spears has indeed led us astray—and this isn’t the first time, either (I was convinced that she and Justin would end up happily ever after). No dictionary to date lists everytime as a standard word. And, really, there isn’t any reason to. Unlike sometime and some time, which have two differing meanings (sometime alludes to an unspecified point in time, whereas some time points to a more particular, though not quantified, amount of time—Can you set aside some time for me sometime this week?), every time only has one meaning.

Note that the unspaced anytime remains contentious, though some dictionaries, like our very own Macquarie, have recognised its usefulness as distinct from any time (in a vein similar to some time / sometime).

their seat(s)

Be mindful of using constructions such as this, in which it’s unclear whether the noun (seat) modified by the plural possessive pronoun (their) is shared by the plural nouns the pronoun is referring to (John and Joe). That is to say, did John and Joe have only a single (multi-seater?) seat, or did they each have one? If it’s the latter, the noun should be plural as well: their seats.

Side note: Constructions such as this can prove troublesome—especially for editors, who may not be fully aware of your intended meaning—when abstract nouns are involved. For example, if you say the managers’ goal for the company, do all the managers (joined by some profound clarity of organisational vision) have a single goal? Or do they each have individual goals? Adding an s, however, can further compound (get it?) the issue. The managers’ goals can mean either: (1) the same set of multiple goals, mutually held by all of the managers; or (2) the managers having some number of goals each, hence the plural goals. In this case, and where context fails to illuminate what you actually mean, it may be best to recast the sentence (e.g. in using the phrasing each manager’s goal, it is clear that there is one goal per manager).


Languages change; over time, they adapt in response to how they are used. Whereas takeaway was once used in hyphenated form (take-away), the Macquarie has recognised that, as a compound term, takeaway has evolved its own definition separate from the two original terms take and away (e.g. you can order food takeaway but still eat it in the restaurant if desired—you just want the paper bag). A similar case is embodied by backyard (sometimes it extends beyond just the back of the house) and framework.

It can be argued that the transition from spaced to hyphenated to unspaced is indicative of the increasing integration of the once-individual terms. Compare ice-cream (it is still cream that is cold, though not necessarily iced) and real-time (happens synchronously to time outside of the virtual realm), with skill set (doesn’t mean anything beyond ‘set of skills’) and car park.

Mum and me

I understand that many were hounded by primary school teachers to use X and I instead of me and X. This is partly true, if we’re talking about noun phrases in the nominative case (i.e. as ‘doers’ of the action): Mum and I went shopping with Kate yesterday. However, it is completely incorrect to say Kate went shopping with Mum and I yesterday because the pronoun with indicates that the noun phrase is used in the objective case (i.e. as the ‘receivers’ of action). Think of it this way: you wouldn’t say Kate went shopping with I, so why would you say with Mum and I?

Understandably, there may be residual aversion to using me and X. If so, you can obviate this via the less awkward alternative X and me.

By Adolfo Aranjuez

Adolfo Aranjuez (a.k.a. ‘Fez’) is the deputy editor of Voiceworks. He is also the in-house editor at independent publisher Melbourne Books, and the 2013 edition of its annual anthology Award Winning Australian Writing is currently open for submissions. If you’d like to send him a Grammar Booty Call, you can contact him via Twitter on @adolfo_ae.

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