I don’t usually like to get political in a public forum—unless publicly correcting the president’s grammar is considered political—but I feel compelled to speak out on an important issue: health care.

Health care is two words. According to my powers that be, A.P. Style and Merriam-Webster, it’s “health care,” not “healthcare.”

In the spring, the Republicans’ initial failed efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act inspired a lot of fierce rhetoric and strong emotions. When that rhetoric was in written form, it all too often included “healthcare” as one word, and that inspired a lot of strong emotions in me. Perhaps most alarming was not the number of times “healthcare” reared its ugly head, but the skeptical reactions I received when I helpfully explained that it should be “health care.” (I enjoy pointing out grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors; surely, not everyone around me enjoys it.) For some reason, “healthcare” is a mistake that many people seem to have accepted as acceptable, contrary to what the Associated Press tells us.

And it’s not as though the A.P. is some sort of rigid, out-of-touch organization that insists on using two words when everyone else uses one. For example, past A.P. Stylebook updates include shifting from “under way” to “underway” in 2013, “Web site” to “website” in 2010, and “cell phone” to “cellphone” in 2011, the same year that the A.P. dropped the hyphen from “e-mail.” The Associated Press can evolve; it’s hip.

Perhaps those who don’t spend their days writing and editing are unconcerned with the A.P.’s rules, which is understandable. As I pointed out above, however, Merriam-Webster also favors “health care” over “healthcare,” and everyone can agree that the dictionary is the authority on spelling. It’s also worth noting that Merriam-Webster can be a pushover, as well, adding secondary definitions to include vast incorrectness. Maybe people just don’t care how many words something is as long as they get the right sequence of letters. That’s certainly the case with another common mistake: using “everyday” in place of “every day.”

This error often pops up on signs, in advertisements, and on product packaging. People seem compelled to push the words “every” and “day” together into one word, even when they should remain separate. “Everyday,” one word, is an adjective used to describe something ordinary or routine. For example, “I often find ways to reference ‘Hamilton’ in my everyday life.” When “every day” is two words, “every” becomes an adjective that modifies “day,” and the resulting phrase is synonymous with “each day.” For example, “I listen to Josh Groban every day.” Based on my observations, it seems that “everyday” is mistakenly used for “every day” constantly, but the reverse mistake is not a common problem. So, whenever you find yourself writing “everyday,” ask yourself whether you could use “each day” in its place. If the answer is yes, split it into two words.

Another common one-or-two-word conundrum is “all right” vs. “alright.” The A.P. once again favors two words, opting for “all right” in all uses. This, however, is an example of Merriam-Webster caving to rampant misuse. Merriam-Webster lists “alright” as an alternate spelling of “all right,” acknowledging that although some insist that it’s wrong, it’s still frequently used, especially in informal writing. So, if you’re a stickler like me and you want to follow A.P. Style, go with “all right” in all uses. If you’re more of a chilled-out Matthew McConaughey type, you may prefer “alright” (or “alright, alright, alright”).

There is a chance that the excessive use of “healthcare,” just like “alright,” will wear down Merriam-Webster and gain entry as an “alternative” or “secondary” spelling.

Merriam-Webster has acted similarly with the definitions of words, usually ones that have been consistently misused over time. It supplements the definition listing with the “alternative” one often used—like literally, which means in a literal or accurate sense, not figuratively; or momentarily, which means for a moment, not in a moment.

But if you’re using “everyday,” please take a moment to make sure you’re using it correctly and change it to “every day” if you’re not.

And please, don’t use “healthcare” as one word—especially if you’re the president.

About the author

Amanda Jacobs is a grammar expert who worked at 22nd Century Media as chief copy editor and editor for three years. She is currently a public relations specialist at the American Academy of Dermatology.

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