Once upon a time, you thought language was simple, didn’t you? Then came the moment you started to over-think the differences between “onetime” vs. “one time” vs. “one-time”—and your boggled mind hasn’t been the same since.
I jest… but then, maybe I don’t. These are the subtleties that catch us and take our writing back a step.
- “Onetime” is an adjective, meaning former, as in “a onetime addict to Harry Potter.”
- “One time” (two separate words) is an adjective and a noun, meaning a single occasion, as in, “One time, I wore a purple sparkling cape because my bookstore employer dictated it on the night of a Harry Potter midnight release.”
- “One-time” is an adjective, meaning happening only once, as in, “I’m pretty sure pretend Hagrid riding up on his motorcycle at the strip mall was a one-time occasion.”
Admittedly, the difference between “onetime” and “one-time” seems to be a recent development, with many dictionaries (especially those outside of North America) not yet making a distinction between the two. Will this new rule hold? Only time will tell.
A single space, a hyphen, a combined word—Harry Potter book-selling memories aside, the distinctions aren’t matters of wizardly trickery. Only English language trickery.
Does that make it easier to deal with? Perhaps not. But the good news is that you don’t need a magic wand to conquer it once and for all.
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