The Grammar Owl has migrated over to the Flubs2Fixes site from my general website, www.bethstilborn.com. He and I will be bringing you monthly posts that answer common grammar and word use questions. The Grammar Owl posts will appear the third Friday of the month.
Today we’re looking at a couple of word use quandaries.
There are some words that seem to have been designed to trip people up. These are words that sometimes go together, while at other times they do not. Tricky, huh?
I’d like to take some time today, rather than doing it sometime in the future, to tell you about a few of these words today. (Did you see what I did there? 😉 )
As you can surmise from the previous sentence, there are times when you use “some time” and times when you use “sometime.” How do you know when to use each one?
“Some time” means to take a while to do something. It will take time. How much time? It will take some time. So it’s an indeterminate while, but it’s a definite time period. It answers the question “what amount of time?” – although admittedly it answers it vaguely.
On the other hand, “sometime” means at an unknown time in the future, and answers the question “when?” It’s even more vague than the other. I don’t know when I’ll do it. I’ll get to it sometime.
And then there is “sometimes” – which means occasionally. It answers the question “how often does this happen?” It happens sometimes. Sometimes I do this, and sometimes I don’t.
Sometimes I wonder how long it will take for people to understand the difference between these words. It will take some time, but it will happen sometime. 😉
Another such word trap is “onto” and “on to.” Those two are misused often.
“Onto” is a preposition, and means to be atop, on top of, upon. David climbed onto the stage.
BUT if you write David finished elementary school and moved onto high school – well, I hope he likes heights, because he’s up on the roof of the school, or so it would seem.
In the sentence about school, “on” is actually part of the verb phrase “moved on” – it’s acting as an adverb, modifying “moved,” and “to” is the preposition.
So you would write David finished elementary school and moved on to high school.
The website Writing Explained suggests that a good way to test which to use is to put the word “up” between the verb and “on” – if it makes sense, then “onto” is the word to use.
“Into” and “in to” work in the same way as “onto” and “on to.”
Are there other similar words that you’ve always wondered about? Ask about them in the comments, and I’ll try to clarify their use.
If you have any questions about grammar or word use, simply send a message to the Grammar Owl (and me) using the Grammar Owl contact form. We look forward to hearing from you, and to answering your questions!
You can find previous Grammar Owl posts here.