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When helping an Italian speaker with her written homework, a cover letter, I told her to change the expression nowadays to that of today. Her original sentence was the following:

I would be delighted to work for your company, as it is one of the most important software companies nowadays.

She asked why it was better to change that expression. I said it didn't sound "right". She looked at me quizzically, so I mumbled something about it being a question of register and collocation but frankly, I'm not sure.

I had better add that she wants to sit the Cambridge English exam Advanced, CAE, so I was wondering whether an examiner would look unfavourably on the expression.

Moreover, I would like to know if nowadays is considered a compound word? Until today, I thought it was made up of three words; now, a and days. But etymonline tells me that it was originally two words: now and adayes. Adayes used to mean "during the day", which I think is lovely and I wish it would make a comeback. In any case, did the hyphenated form, now-adayes ever existed?

I know there is a similar question on ELU to this one, "Nowadays" vs "today" but it hasn't really answered any of my questions.

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I think you were on the right track when you mentioned it might be a question of register: to me, nowadays is old-fashioned in a sort of folksy way, rather than a "we're not that exact anymore" archaic way that would actually make a word more formal. But that's just my gut feeling, no support whatsoever.

nowadays   (adverb)
at the present day; in these times: Few people do their laundry by hand nowadays.

today   (adverb)
1. on this present day: I will do it today.
2. at the present time; in these days: Today you seldom see horses.

So the second meaning of "today" is more-or-less identical to "nowadays", but that's not the meaning you want when you're trying to say you approve of something. Today is the bright, shiny, new day of opportunity; nowadays is the faded shadow of yesteryear. As Prof. Lawler said, "nowadays is often used to disparage present conditions in contrast to the past."

Oops, forgot to address the compound word part of your question. I've certainly never considered "nowadays" to be a compound of anything, because if you subtract the obvious "now" part, you're left with "adays", which doesn't look like a word. Most compounds have two parts, so it would be a bit of stretch to break it down as now + a + days, though I suppose that's possible, and I'm sure you're not the only person who has ever done so.

  • I'd upvote your answer now but I've reached my quota! – Mari-Lou A Dec 20 '13 at 20:22
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    @Mari-LouA, that seems to be going around these days. Something about hats? – Marthaª Dec 20 '13 at 20:23
  • Unfortunately tHats seems very likely. – Mari-Lou A Dec 20 '13 at 20:24
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    @Mari-LouA: THWACK! – Marthaª Dec 20 '13 at 20:29
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I agree with your recommendation. While it's not technically an error, in my judgement "Nowadays" will probably be perceived as a colloquialism, and therefore sounds less erudite.

  • Well, this student of mine would like to sit the English exam, the CAE. I was thinking would an examiner mark her down? Maybe I should include this comment in my question. Thanks for reminding me! – Mari-Lou A Dec 20 '13 at 19:36
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    It's not an error at all, but today is a bright shiny marketing term, while nowadays is often used to disparage present conditions in contrast to the past. In this kind of letter, one wants to avoid any hint of disparagement. – John Lawler Dec 20 '13 at 19:47
  • Could you post that as an answer, please? It makes a lot of sense! – Mari-Lou A Dec 20 '13 at 20:10

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