An Everyday Error

(You See It Every Day)

Many others have addressed this problem, but I feel obligated to do my part to combat it. It’s simple, really: The single word everyday is an adjective that, to quote Merriam-Webster online, means “encountered or used routinely or typically, ordinary.” It is totally different from the two-word adverbial phrase every day, which tells us when.

Just to reinforce the distinct meaning of everyday, let’s turn to a thesaurus for more synonyms: average, commonplace, conventional, customary, dull, familiar, lowly, mainstream, middle-of-the-road, mundane, normal, plain, prosaic, quotidian, routine, run-of-the-mill, unexceptional, unimaginative, unremarkable, usual.

Here are some examples of correct and incorrect usage:

Wrong: Low prices everyday!
(As written, this means, “Low prices ordinary!” Huh?)

Right: Low prices every day!
(When are prices low? During each and every 24-hour period!)

Right: You’ll love our everyday low prices!
(That is, our usual prices. Not special sale prices, just our normal ones.)

Wrong: He wore the same clothes everyday.
(He wore the same clothes when? The answer is not, say, “dull,” although the predictable subject of the sentence may be.)

Right: He wore the same clothes every day.
(When? One 24-hour period after another, again and again.)

Right: He knew his everyday clothes weren’t proper wedding attire.
(The unexceptional clothes that he typically wears, e.g. jeans and T-shirts.)

Right: Everyday concerns recede when you’re falling in love.
(The mundane stuff, the familiar, petty annoyances and worries . . . all gone!)

Right: It’s not every day you see a nose of that size.
(When do you see a nose like that? Not on a daily basis, that’s for sure.)

Right: His was not an everyday nose. No, it was a nose thrown onto his face by Rodin, full of character and expression, a form for its own sake.
(Not everyday, but the opposite: remarkable, extraordinary, unique!)

Okay, I’m getting carried away. Or warmed up. In any case, by now you can see that the distinction between everyday and every day is a clear and useful one. You wouldn’t know it, though, from the rampant confusion of the two.

Click here (PDF) for a series of maddening e-mail exchanges between a former English teacher and an obtuse Coca-Cola Company flack regarding the company’s flat-out wrong use of everyday in an advertising slogan. Titled “I’d Like to Teach the World to Spell,” the exchange appeared in the July 2003 issue of Harper’s Magazine. I’ve never forgotten it. Being an editor, I of course share the teacher’s indignation.