Say ‘Good Night’ to ‘Goodnight’

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter

Language Lessons. … (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s Note: The following post can also be viewed at Jason Drexler’s new blog, Elements of English, which is dedicated to dissecting various features and idiosyncrasies of the English language.

The English language has many instances of two words getting pushed together into one, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. One of the most confusing instances for people is that of good night vs. goodnight. Which one is correct? Or are both correct?

The short answer: Good night is correct and goodnight is wrong.

The explanation: Try thinking of it this way: Would you ever use goodmorning, goodafternoon, goodday, or goodevening? No, of course you wouldn’t (and if you are, you should stop!). Those things just look silly.

Some people have correctly pointed out that Oxford gives its stamp of approval to goodnight, but in this instance I believe Oxford has erred, and here’s why: I believe that consistency is crucial in any system (of language or otherwise)—otherwise, we’re making things more difficult for people—and in this case the easiest way to achieve consistency is to leave good night as two words (besides, all those other terms above look ridiculous as one word!).

Now you might be thinking, “But what about goodbye? Why is that one word? Shouldn’t it be two?” Those are goodquestions good questions.

The short answer: Goodbye is the correct form.

The explanation: Bye is not an element, such as day or afternoon, that would normally stand on its own; bye is, in fact, merely a shortened form of goodbye. When you say, for example, good evening, you’re literally wishing someone a good evening, so there’s a standalone element (evening) and a desire relating to that element (good); whereas with goodbye, you’re not literally wishing someone a good bye, because there’s no such standalone thing as a bye (unless, of course, you’re talking about a free pass through a particular round of a sports tournament). Thus, bye cannot grammatically stand on its own—unless used in the aforementioned manner of a shortened form of goodbye.

 

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40 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Hednilton Jose Marques Bastos
    Apr 15, 2013 @ 17:51:03

    Muito obrigado pela ajuda ( thank you for help me!)

    Reply

  2. Marveline
    Nov 09, 2013 @ 22:17:54

    Thanks Jason for answering my question

    Reply

  3. erickpiller
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 20:51:47

    I wouldn’t think too hard about spelling. The English language isn’t mathematics (which, in any case, has its own arbitrary conventions—order of operations, for example). It’s probably wisest to go with popular usage: that is, to take a descriptivist approach rather than a prescriptivist one. Oxford Dictionaries Online recognizes “goodnight,” so apparently a pretty good number of people use it: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/goodnight

    The takeaway: Goodnight/good night as an exclamation can go either way. Just try to be consistent within a single document. Did you have a good night? should be two words.

    (I hesitated to respond to a two-year-old post. But it was one of the first results on Google, so I thought a response would be warranted.)

    Reply

  4. a. mayo
    Jun 26, 2014 @ 20:44:57

    Nice try jasondrexler but my authority is the oxford dictionary. And goodnight stands.

    Reply

    • jasondrexler
      Jun 27, 2014 @ 14:11:40

      I’m not sure why you’re being so mean about it, Mr. (or Mrs.) Mayo, but anyways …

      I recognize that there are different opinions about this issue, and the people at Oxford are smart folks, I’m sure, but I’ve yet to see a good reason for “goodnight”—and no, “because that’s how people spell it” isn’t a good reason in my book. Most of the masses are clueless about this sort of thing, so I don’t take my direction from them.

      To say “good night” to someone is a shortened form of saying, “Have a good night” (or something similar), and you certainly wouldn’t spell that sentence, “Have a goodnight.” A “good night” is two things—an adjective and a noun—not just one thing (a noun). I also would never say “goodday,” “goodevening,” “goodafternoon,” or the like. Would you?

      Reply

  5. Joy
    Jul 04, 2014 @ 16:23:28

    Goodnight is a word. Late at night before you sleep, “Goodnight” is acceptable. In contrast, “Have a good night”, is 2 words.

    Reply

    • Joy
      Jul 04, 2014 @ 16:34:36

      Let me elaborate, at night when you’re either on the phone, in person, text, or email, you can say, “Goodnight. Sweet dreams” OR “Have a good night!” I would NEVER use, “Have a goodnight!” Now that’s wrong! “Goodnight” would be used in the same context as “Goodbye.”

      Reply

    • jasondrexler
      Oct 21, 2014 @ 09:36:34

      The thing I find troubling is that some people think anything can be a word—at least, they think it can be a word if enough people use it. So, in their mathematics of language, something that’s wrong can be right if it’s done often enough.

      But I don’t see it that way. Though the composition of a given language certainly depends quite a bit on usage, some structure is still required, therefore it’s silly (in my view) to have “goodnight” but not have “goodmorning,” “goodafternoon,” “goodevening,” and “goodday.” I believe in consistency, and the easiest way to make this particular situation consistent is to use “good night” in all instances.

      Reply

  6. Eahfu Baou
    Aug 04, 2014 @ 12:25:50

    I don’t want to be mean, but “because that’s how people spell it” is precisely the reason why words are spelled the way they are. You know, like “thumb” or “postcard” or “through” or … or … or…

    Language lives, and if the people at Oxford want to say it is a word, then I defer to their greater wisdom, Mr jasondrexler. (I’ve noticed in Singapore people have stopped putting a period after title abbreviations. I like it, and so do it!)

    Reply

    • jasondrexler
      Oct 21, 2014 @ 09:41:08

      I’m not going to be arrogant and say I’m smarter or wiser than the people at Oxford, but I’m not sure why you’re holding them up as being (seemingly) infallible and presuming me to be not in a position to disagree with them. Do they never make mistakes? Have you ever wondered why they aren’t more consistent? Have you ever thought about the importance of consistency and structure in language?

      Reply

  7. Max
    Aug 04, 2014 @ 19:24:59

    I’m afraid you’re wrong. “Goodnight” is a salutation–as in “Goodnight to you all”–whereas “good night” is an object as in “(You) have a good night.” It is an arbitrary convention that does not reflect in similar structures (such as “good morning.”) That said, “goodnight” is used enough that it is a standard word in the English dictionary.

    Reply

    • jasondrexler
      Oct 21, 2014 @ 09:55:56

      I disagree, Max. “Good afternoon” is a salutation, yet it’s not spelled as one word. In fact the large majority of salutations that include the word “good” are spelled as two words. I believe in consistency, not arbitrary conventions, and the easiest way to make this situation consistent is to make “goodnight” into two words. And it would certainly be easier for English language learners if they could rely on consistent rules being in place.

      Reply

  8. Dobromir Antonov
    Aug 17, 2014 @ 06:57:58

    Great explanation!!!Thanks a lot!!!!

    Reply

  9. Alan
    Oct 07, 2014 @ 02:12:01

    The premise of this article is flawed. You cannot reason your way through English. English is an old language, full of inconsistencies. Fact is, something either is correct or it is not. It does not matter whether you would say “goodday” or “goodevening”, what matters is that you can in fact say “goodnight”. It is 100% correct, particularly in UK English.

    You will find plenty of examples in the English language where two or more words are used as one, e.g. afternoon, breakfast, nevertheless, otherwise, goodbye (and yes, people “in the know” like the people at Oxford recognise it to be correct), etc.

    The reasoning is irrelevant. The sad thing is non-native English speakers might read this article and believe what you wrote.

    Reply

    • jasondrexler
      Oct 21, 2014 @ 10:24:34

      Did you ever think it’s a problem that English can’t be “reasoned through”? Have you never thought that inconsistencies shouldn’t exist? And why should reasoning about an issue be irrelevant? In fact, a main thrust of my argument is that the people at Oxford (and others) AREN’T using reasoning, and they should be. They’re granting too much power to the masses, who have little training in these matters, and not giving enough consideration to consistency and structure. Sure, there are lots of instances in which two or more words are used as one, but that doesn’t necessarily mean “ANY instance of two or more words being put together = a proper word.” I mean, should “pancakeflipper” be one word?

      Reply

    • Heathaze
      Oct 31, 2014 @ 06:15:08

      You can’t reason with dogmatic people who value their own opinion over everyone else’s, like Jason here. English is not an arbitrary, one way or the highway kind of thing. It’s a living, breathing, evolving process, in spoken and written form.

      Oh look! Two more examples of words that are consistently and properly “squashed together”: Everyone and highway.

      http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/goodnight

      Reply

      • jasondrexler
        Oct 31, 2014 @ 09:45:40

        Given that you’re calling me unreasonable based on my opinion on one narrow topic, and that you’re treating Oxford like it’s Gospel truth, you may want to reconsider which one of us is unreasonable and dogmatic.

        In truth, I have a very good reason for deeming “good night” two words in all cases, which you would’ve known had you read through my previous comments: Consistency. Language could go one way or it could go another, but whichever way it goes, it should be consistent. No one writes “goodmorning,” “goodevening,” or “goodafternoon,” so we shouldn’t write “goodnight.” Alternatively, we could write them all as one word. Pick a method and stick with it.

  10. Heathaze
    Nov 01, 2014 @ 13:50:41

    The problem is, oh arrogant one, you didn’t simply “weigh in” on the subject. You stated, categorically, and I quote, “I’ll cut right to the chase: goodnight is wrong, and good night is correct.” I’m going out on a limb here and assuming that you wrote this bloviating blog without even doing a simple fact check. Otherwise, you’d have found multiple dictionaries, including the authoritative dictionary of the English language, Oxford’s, shoot down your “opinion” as the nonsense it is.

    The fact is, goodnight is properly written as goodnight, good night, AND good-night with the hyphen (Random House Unabridged Dictionary). There is NOTHING backing up your blanket, unfounded assumption that writing it as goodnight, is wrong. To the contrary, a fairly quick google search shows MULTIPLE uses of the term, spelled goodnight, in writings from Jules Verne, Charles Dickens, and more recent examples, as well.

    As to why I haven’t, to this point, address the supposed reason for your unfounded blog, it’s mainly because I was typing on a smartphone yesterday. Also, your reasoning was already shot full of holes by others in the comment section, to wit:

    Alan commented: “The premise of this article is flawed. You cannot reason your way through English. English is an old language, full of inconsistencies. Fact is, something either is correct or it is not. It does not matter whether you would say “goodday” or “goodevening”, what matters is that you can in fact say “goodnight”. It is 100% correct, particularly in UK English.”

    I agree with Alan, obviously. Your entire argument is based on dogmatic, quick-sand logic. What people like you who so bull-headedly insist that their way is correct, and try to put language in a box filled with rules that THEY feel are logical, is that language is organic. Language is evolving, ever-changing. While we may not type goodafternoon right now, we may very well do just that in the future. I probably won’t, as goodafternoon looks ridiculous to me. But goodnight feels perfectly normal to type, and is even spoken without an obvious break between the words.

    Erickpiller properly commented that one should be consistent in which form one chooses in a single document. That I agree with, although I’m sure others won’t necessarily.

    In summary, I don’t care how many university newspapers you’ve edited, or how many students you’ve improperly “corrected” on various spellings that YOU feel are wrong, despite decades of literature to the contrary. You’re clearly not informed enough on this particular word to be dogmatically shouting from the rooftops that “goodnight is wrong.” YOU think it’s wrong. But you’re just a dude with a blog. That’s why we have authoritative dictionaries: They teach us the correct way to spell words, they ARE the gospel, because they represent the consensus of committees of language scholars and experts in etymology, after pouring over hundreds of years of writing, both fiction and nonfiction.

    If you actually LOOK at the qualifications of the scholars who compile the major dictionaries of the world, there’s not a chance in hades you’d think, based on your “credentials”, that you’d even be considered for a job at Oxford. And after they read this blog, I seriously doubt you’d even be considered for an internship. Goodnight!

    Reply

    • jasondrexler
      Nov 01, 2014 @ 17:37:52

      We’ve made our opinions on this issue clear, so I’ll keep this response short.

      1) Yesterday you wrote, “So what I’m going to (do) is ignore your arrogant opinions.” You’re doing a heck of a job sticking to this promise. Keep it up.

      2) Oxford is gospel? So you’re saying Oxford has never been wrong and never will be?

      3) Said it before but I’ll say it again: Consistency, consistency, consistency.

      4) I may be “just a dude with a blog,” but I’m not going on other people’s blogs and acting uncivil and looking to pick a verbal fight (without even knowing anything about that person, no less). You’re just as unyielding in your opinion as I am in mine, so that must make you bullheaded, as well.

      Reply

      • Heathaze
        Nov 04, 2014 @ 13:14:45

        Point by point, so that even someone as obtuse as you can understand:

        1) Yesterday you wrote, “So what I’m going to (do) is ignore your arrogant opinions.” You’re doing a heck of a job sticking to this promise. Keep it up.

        That ship sailed when you kept being thick-headed, obtuse, and generally ill-informed about how language works. Get over it!

        2) Oxford is gospel? So you’re saying Oxford has never been wrong and never will be?

        NO ONE HERE said that the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language has NEVER made a mistake. You’re the only one who has used the word “infallible” as it relates to this subject. What seems so simple to everyone else in this discussion though, and what eludes your obtuse membrane, is that when in comes to how words are to be, or in this case CAN be, spelled, an authoritative dictionary IS the gospel truth, not some dude with a blog.

        What is VERY obvious, to everyone it seems but you, is that Oxford did NOT make a mistake in THIS instance, you did. For classic writings throughout literature, as well as modern examples, all agree with the DICTIONARY, not YOU. Sorry to burst your obviously enormous ego, but Charles Dickens knew more about writing, and probably did by the time he was five years old, than you ever will.

        As icing on the cake, goodnight is allowed in all THREE spelling dictionaries of the major smartphone operating systems: Windows Phone 8.1, iOS 8, as well as Android. Starting to get the picture?

        3) Said it before but I’ll say it again: Consistency, consistency, consistency.

        And I’ll say it again: WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. Human communication, in all the forms of it I know, including art, music, and yes the English language, is ORGANIC. It has not, cannot, and WILL not be put in a box by some narrow-minded pinhead who can’t think deeply enough to get it. Hell, even chess can’t be put in a box full of rules, although people like you try to put it there. The prodigies and masters of any subject are always, ALWAYS able to move beyond convention.

        4) I may be “just a dude with a blog,” but I’m not going on other people’s blogs and acting uncivil and looking to pick a verbal fight (without even knowing anything about that person, no less). You’re just as unyielding in your opinion as I am in mine, so that must make you bullheaded, as well.

        You were the one who took this piece in an uncivil direction to begin with! Just look at your ignorant, misinformed post, and especially at your responses to the NUMEROUS people who correctly pointed out your errors. Am I bullheaded? I’m sure I am. However, you are literally the dude who is arguing with dictionaries and decades, MOUNTAINS of literature! How foolish is that??

        You’re just another internet bully, who, know matter which sources, or how many people prove them wrong, continue to argue against all reason and logic. Not only do you fail to do simple fact checks before bloviating, ENDLESSLY, about subjects you’re ignorant about, you apparently suffer from extremely low self-esteem as well. Goodnight!

  11. Love Y'all
    Nov 23, 2014 @ 22:44:24

    Yeah! Hip hip hooray…. Grammar is evolving, we can change the world! Let’s all do texting…😄😄😄 Let’s make the world a better place. No arguments, love one another! -LOL

    Reply

  12. tmcgwhite
    Jan 11, 2015 @ 19:24:51

    I’d like to add a caveat to your article. “Good night” is certainly what should be said when wishing someone a good night. But what about “they said their goodnights”? Shouldn’t that be one word?

    Reply

    • jasondrexler
      Jan 14, 2015 @ 13:22:03

      You raise an interesting question. And I’ve given it quite a bit of thought.

      The answer I’ve settled on is that it should still be two words in the example you gave, and my reasoning is much the same as it is for making “good night” two words in other situations.

      For example, in the original post, I wrote that I wouldn’t use “goodafternoon” or “goodday,” so I wouldn’t write “goodnight.” Likewise, I wouldn’t write, “They said their ‘goodafternoons'” or “They said their ‘gooddays,'” so I wouldn’t write, “They said their ‘goodnights.'” It’s the principle of consistency.

      Reply

  13. rafabarros01
    Jul 11, 2016 @ 20:42:02

    Hahhaa I’ve had a lot of fun reading these comments haha. Thank you guys… You all gave me a “Goodnight or Good night” lol

    # I’m not native English speaker. I am just a learner. I only was trying to figure out which one is correct… Good night or Goodnight. To be honest I’m more confused now than before lol

    Reply

  14. Cristina
    Oct 18, 2016 @ 03:42:45

    Great explanation. Thank you!

    Reply

  15. del-an
    Dec 28, 2016 @ 15:47:16

    Hello sir Jasondrexler! I just wanted to ask you about cannot and can not? What is the difference between the two of them? I am hoping for your reply, thank you so much.

    Reply

  16. James S
    Apr 09, 2017 @ 15:15:18

    Good original post, Jason. And ‘goodbye’ is indeed a one-word contraction and twist–of the original phrase, ‘God be with ye’.

    Reply

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