I get the distinct feeling that "inbetween" occurs increasingly often as a single word, but I'm not at all clear on why it's used more in some contexts than others.

What I can is see that in Google Books, "are inbetween" occurs far less often than "are in between", whereas "the inbetween" occurs more often than "the in between". What's going on?

  • My first thought was that "inbetween" is being used in the noun cases, and "in between" elsewhere, but clicking through some of those results, I only found one case of "are inbetween" using "inbetween" as a noun... – yoozer8 Feb 22 '12 at 4:22
  • @Jim: I had thought the same! I think it's more a matter of the single-word form being seen as a kind of "adjective" rather than a "compound preposition", but hopefully someone else will have more to say on the matter. – FumbleFingers Feb 22 '12 at 4:25
  • The space is inaudible in speech, so it's purely a spelling problem. Words, especially function words, get compounded all the time, and spacing varies. – John Lawler Feb 22 '12 at 5:10
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    I'm always using inbetween as one word. I guess I'm ahead of my time! – Matt E. Эллен Feb 22 '12 at 9:41
  • @Matt: That it indeed a key point, imho. Is it in fact the case that all usages can reasonably be treated as "single concept", and will they therefore all eventually be written as a single word? Always assuming there really is an increasing tendency to use the single-word form, which is how it appears to me. – FumbleFingers Feb 22 '12 at 13:25

I had not previously been aware of seeing it printed other than as two words, but the practice seems not to be particularly new. The OED records the hyphenated noun in-between as meaning ‘(a) An interval. (b) A person who intervenes.’ The first citation is dated 1815:

He's fallen in love with Lady Naglefort, because she's an in-between.

It’s followed a year later in Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ by:

Busy . . . talking and listening, and forming all these schemes in the in-betweens.

As an adjective meaning ‘placed between’, it occurs first, once again hyphenated, in 1898:

White or pale-coloured silk, with an in-between layer of chiffon.

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  • Which is just about what one would expect. I am not sure why the OP is really excited about the discovery AD. – Kris Feb 22 '12 at 11:51
  • I understand the inclination to make it a single word specifically when it's used as a noun - but even among Google Books instances of "the inbetween", it's mostly used adjectivally. I'm only really interested in the existence of a hyphenated form because that's usually a precursor to something becoming a single word, but in this case it doesn't seem so simple. I suspect on average there may be some subtle difference between usage of one/two word forms in the non-noun context. – FumbleFingers Feb 22 '12 at 13:06
  • @FumbleFingers: A version of the British National Corpus that I am using has no records for either ‘inbetween’ or ‘in-between’. There is, however, one instance of ‘in between’ as a noun: ‘. . . she's opening up actually in Exeter but this is an in between . . .’ – Barrie England Feb 22 '12 at 13:54
  • I don't know too much about how these "corpora" are managed, but might it not be that the people doing that managing have pre-decided that the single-word and hyphenated forms "don't count"? – FumbleFingers Feb 22 '12 at 14:19
  • @FumbleFingers: No, I don't think that's the case at all. I've just looked at the full BNC and found 48 records for 'in-between'. – Barrie England Feb 22 '12 at 15:06

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