December 2005 Vol. 10 Issue 4
Grammar Trap: apart vs. a part

Recently, I've noticed writers using "apart" instead of "a part" in several documents I've read.

Take the following sentence example: "Once apart of this group, members must create a new design."

In the above usage, the writer tries to use "apart" as a noun meaning a portion of a whole. As in, "Do you want part of my sandwich?"

But "apart" is actually an adverb which means "into pieces or parts" or "separately." For example: "I'll tear this apart," or "Keep them apart so they don't hurt each other."

In the sentence, "I'll tear this apart," "apart" is an adverb that modifies the verb "tear." It is not an object itself (you don't have an "apart" of a group).

Very often "a" isn't necessary. In fact, that's a simple test for the correct usage. If you can take "a" off without changing the meaning, you probably want "part." If it doesn't make sense without the "a" then you probably want "apart."

So, the ideal correction to the original example is, "Once part of this group, members must create a new design."

The erroneous use probably results from the fact that, when spoken together, "a" and "part" sound like a third word, "apart."

But hey, you're not alone. With some words, the error was so common that it actually turned into the rule.

For instance, the word we know as "apple" used to be "napple." But over centuries of misuse, "a napple" became "an apple." There is a linguistic term for this process, but that's a part of this story you probably won't find interesting.

Kevin Leigh Smith, kevlsmith@purdue.edu

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