Why it’s apiece, not a piece

A reader calls us to task for using “a piece” as two words. The word is apiece, an adverb that means “for each one.” My colleagues and I know this, of course, but we overlooked it. The reader’s note led me to think about a way to explain to people why it is apiece and not “a piece.”

The answer can be found in the dictionary. The etymology of apiece refers to a-, a prefix from Old English that meant “in” or “on.” The prefix is the same in current English. It means, the dictionary says, “in, into, on, at, to,” as in ashore and abed. So that’s the way to understand apiece. Think of the a- as a prefix, not an article.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.