Understanding homophones – when two or more words have the same pronunciation but different meanings, origins, or spelling – is one of the many challenges of the English language. When two words sound the same and have only minimal differences in their spellings, how are we supposed to tell them a part? Or wait… is it “apart?” Ah, here we go…

“Apart” and “a part” are good examples of homophones. Spelled out they look very similar, and said aloud they’re almost indistinguishable, but they have very different meanings. Today we’re going to take a closer look at when to use each of these words.

“Apart” is an adverb meaning two or more people or things separated by distance, time or circumstance. It is a synonym of “separately,” which describes something that is “not with other things.” In many cases, “apart” will be paired with the preposition “from.”

Examples:

  • Apart from her lack of common sense, she seems like a pleasant girl.”
  • “Even when wearing her full disguise, she stood apart from the rest of the crowd.”
  • “If you take apart her old typewriter, you will find the key hidden within.”

“A part” is actually two separate words and means something entirely different. “A” is an article, and “part” is a noun meaning “one piece of a larger whole.” The words will often be accompanied with the preposition “of.”

Examples:

  • “She’s not just a lizard, she’s a part of our family.”
  • “Once you’re a part of that cult, there is no escaping.”
  • “May I have a part of your baguette?”

It is important to remember that “part” does not always appear with “a,” however. The article “a” can be omitted when “part” is not followed by an adjective. We can rewrite any of the sentences above to demonstrate this.

Examples:

  • “She’s not just a lizard, she’s part of our family.” (Correct)
  • “She’s not just a lizard, she’s huge part of our family.” (Wrong)
  • “She’s not just a lizard, she’s a huge part of our family.” (Correct)

A good way to remember the difference between “apart” and “a part” is to take away the article “a” and see if the sentence still makes sense without it. If you can remove the article without changing the sentence’s meaning, you probably should use “part.” If the meaning changes, you probably should use “apart.”

If you’re still confused:

A part = union

Apart= separation

This post courtesy of MMC Summer 2019 Intern Bianca Price.