Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, we look twice at “bi”…
Q: Winter has arrived.
A: No it hasn’t. It’s still April.
Q: No, it was a Game of Thrones reference. The new series started again last week.
A: Oh of course; the frenzied anticipation seems to have become an annual event.
Q: Could be worse though – it could be a biannual event, so at least we don’t have to wait two years.
A: Ah, okay, we appear to have stumbled upon today’s topic.
Q: We have?
A: Yes, and this may cause “Ned Stark” levels of shock, but “biannual” should be TWICE a year; not every second.
Q: Have you lost your head? Surely not?
A: Well, both do get used, but that’s the preferred version.
Q: So what’s once every two years then?
Q: Oh okay.
A: Consider “ennial” as having a multiplier effect – i.e. centennial is every 100 years, quadrennial is every four years, etc.
Q: Seems a bit confusing.
A: Yes it’s almost as messed up as a Westeros wedding. You see, at some point “biannual” was accepted for BOTH twice a year or once every two years. Thankfully, we now have the preferred usage we just mentioned.
Q: Biennial = every two years. Biannual = twice a year.
A: That’s it. The confusion is of course with the prefix “bi” – as it can mean both “twice” and “two”.
Q: So, can you say “semi-annual” to avoid confusion?
A: Yes, as “semi” means half. But many writers may find that’s still a bit clunky, and often just stating “twice a year” is better.
Q: But wait, a bimonthly magazine? Is that twice a month or every two months?
A: It’s tricky, right? Based on the “bi” definition, it can be either. However, the “every two months” option is the preferred one in the publishing world. Six issues a year.
Q: And biweekly?
A: Again, the dictionary definition literally says both twice a week OR every two weeks. The recommended option is the latter. Macquarie Dictionary adds this usage note: “‘Biweekly’ traditionally means ‘every two weeks’ and ‘semiweekly’ meaning ‘twice a week’. But there is an occasional tendency, with consequent confusion, to take ‘biweekly’ to mean ‘twice a week’.”
Q: Okay, so a quick recap on the preferred methods?
A: Biannual = twice a year; Biennial = every two years; Bimonthly = every two months; Semi-monthly = Twice a month; Biweekly = every two weeks; Semi-weekly = twice a week.
Q: I think I’ll just avoid “bi” and “semi” altogether and use those “twice a year”-type meanings.
A: Fair enough.
Q: And one last thing – you used a hyphen in “semi-weekly” but Macquarie didn’t. What’s the go here?
A: You can use either for these adjectives, but just be consistent – don’t chop and change!
Q: Good advice. And speaking of chop, I’m off to rewatch the new episode. Want to join me?
A: Sorry, not really a fan of Game of Thrones.
Do you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore this year? Email it to us today!