Apart vs. a part?

The word apart is an adverb and adjective that generally describes disconnect and separation. “A part” is a phrase that sounds the same as “apart,” but it doesn’t have the same meaning. Instead, the phrase “a part” consists of the “a” and “part” to describe a piece or section of something whole.

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What is the difference between a part vs. apart?

English speakers pronounce the word apart identically to the phrase “a part,” but these homophones actually consist of different meanings and grammatical functions. In fact, the phrase “a part” can also have the opposite meaning of apart, so it’s important to brush-up on their differences before using them in a formal setting

Apart is a word, “a part” is not

Before using “a part” in a sentence, we need to realize that it’s not a word–– it’s technically a phrase. “A part” consists of an article, the letter a, and the noun “part,” which means section, portion, or sometimes “member.” What this means is that when using “a part,” we aren’t trying to convey the word “apart” at all. We are actually using the word “part.” 

A part” unifies concepts, “apart” disconnects them

While the word part represents many types of speech (i.e., verb, noun, adverb, etc.), its role within “a part” specifically uses the noun form. The noun form of part is also common within phrases like “in part” or “for the most part,” which should sound familiar to most native speakers. 

When used correctly, the noun part represents a piece or fraction of a whole. In contrast, the word apart is either an adverb or adjective that we use similarly to terms like alone, distant, and separated. Additionally, we can use the word apart within  phrases like, “outside of,” “by itself” or “to one side.” 

To further illustrate, if you’re apart from something, you’re disconnected or disassociated. But if you start a sentence with, “Apart from this …,” you’re essentially stating, “Aside from this point …” Whichever way you decide to use apart in a sentence, you’re expressing distance and exclusion, and not an aspect of unity like the phrase “a part.” 

What does apart mean?

We use the word apart as an adverb or adjective to describe a degree of separation or to indicate that something exists in several smaller parts. The word apart is different from the noun apartness, which describes the state of existing apart from or the result of being separated. 

Apart as an adverb

As an adverb, the word apart describes an undetermined distance that separates something from another, whether it’s physical space or time. For example, 

“We sleep apart from each other.”
“We live five miles apart.” 

Alternatively, we can use the adverb apart to mean:

  1. A subject or object that exists independently of another. 
    “My brother has twins, and you can’t tell them apart.” 
    “Shown apart, it’s clear the houses have different realtors.” 
  2. An object or idea that’s set aside from consideration. 
    Apart from frequent parking tickets, he is a law-abiding citizen.” 
  3. Something that consists of two or more parts or pieces. 
    “The stress is making me fall apart.” 

Adverb synonyms

Aside, asunder, away from each other, distant from each other, independently, on one’s own, separately, to the side, to pieces, piecemeal. 

Adverb antonyms

Together

Apart as an adjective

The adjective form of apart is similar to the adverb definition, except it describes something as separated, “on its own,” or divided in thought. For example, 

“We spent time apart.”
“Nursing is a profession apart.”
“With the senators
apart, a vote remains null. 

Adjective synonyms

Away, deep, distant, far-off, isolated, lonesome, nowhere, odd, outlying, remote, removed, secluded.

Adjective antonyms

Adjacent, adjoining, contiguous, close, nearby, nigh. 

Etymology of apart

The word apart derives from Middle English, but before it made its way into the English Language, it was an Old French term for the phrase ‘a part.’ The Old French translation additionally derives from Latin ‘a parte.’ 

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and Lexico, the original sense of apart translates to “to one side” or “at the side.” But in case you’re wondering, the adverb form of apart came first in the 14th century. The adjective form of apart emerged later in 1680. 

What does part mean?

The word part exists as a noun, adjective, verb, and adverb, but within the phrase “a part,” it’s a noun. While the noun part contains several micro interpretations, the most common definitions include:

  1. An undetermined amount of something that belongs to a whole. 
    “Can I eat part of your sandwich?”
  2. A significant or essential portion. 
    “She spent a good part of her morning reading the Washington Post.”
  3. Equal or unequal sections of a greater whole, such as distribution or series of work. 
    “A trilogy is a story told over three parts.”
    “They released part of the stimulus check.”
  4. The role performed for an action. 
    “Everyone plays a part in the game of life.” 
  5. A borderless area of land. 
    “You don’t know what’s lurking in these parts.” 
  6. The natural separation of hair on the scalp.
    “Hannah has a defined part in the middle of her head.”
  7. An aspect of personality or talent. 
    “The best part about my fiancé is her sense of humor.”
  8. The role or lines performed by an actor. 
    “Jon got a part in the school play.”

Noun synonyms

Aspect, component, element, factor, member, partition, piece, portion, role, section, segment.

Noun antonyms

Aggregate, composition, pool, sum, total, whole. 

Etymology of part

The noun part has existed in the English Language since the times of Old English, but similar to “apart,” it derives from the Latin root “part-” or “pars.” However, the verb form of part developed through Middle English as a descendant of French partir and Latin partire or partem, which translates to “to divide” or “to share.” 

How to use apart in a sentence?

There are many ways to use the word apart, but it’s important to remember how it conveys disconnect or separation as opposed to unity with “a part.” Example sentences include:

“The editor tore our recent posts apart.”
“Her family lives two states apart.”
“It’s not always easy to tell native speakers apart from ESL.” 

Another way to use apart in a sentence is through the phrase “apart from,” which we use similar to “except for” or “outside of.” For example,

Apart from the kitchen, the house is clean.” 

The last common way to write apart is through phrasal verbs, which consist of a verb and an adverb. In this case, we can pair the adverb apart with a verb to describe an action more vividly. For example,

“To fall apart.” 
“To live apart.”
“To pull apart.” 

How to use a part in a sentence?

To use “a part” in a sentence correctly, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t function as one word. Together, the words “a” and “part” convey how something belongs to a greater group of things. We use the resulting noun phrase “a part” similarly to phrases like “a piece,” “a section,” or “a role.” 

Sentence examples include,

“I need to buy a part for my bike.”
“You played a part in the bike’s destruction.”
A part of me wants to buy a new bike.” 

As we can see from the three examples, the use of “a” before “part” makes the referenced amount or member somewhat ambiguous. That’s because “a” is an indefinite article, so it doesn’t reference a specific object or quantity. 

If we remove the article altogether, the ambiguity of part may remain. For instance, if you wrote, “I drove for part of the way home,” the word part still represents a non-specified distance. But if you wrote, “I am part of the team,” it’s clear that “part” describes you, the subject.

Test Yourself!

Are you an expert at recognizing commonly confused words? See how well you understand the difference between “apart” and “a part” with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. True or false: The phrase “a part” can function as a phrasal verb. 
    a. True
    b. False
  2. The word apart is a ____________.
    a. Adjective
    b. Verb
    c. Adverb
    d. A and C
  3. The adverb meaning of apart is not synonymous with ____________.
    a. Aside
    b. Separately
    c. Together
    d. Asunder
  4. As an adjective, the word apart is not synonymous with ____________.
    a. Close
    b. Deep
    c. Nowhere
    d. Secluded
  5. Choose the correct word: “I want to be __________ of the family.”
    a. Apart
    b. A part

Answers

  1. A
  2. D
  3. C
  4. A
  5. B

Sources

  1. Apart.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  2. Apart.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  3. Part.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  4. Part.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  5. Phrasal verbs and multi-word verbs.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.