Grammar Chaos: The Countdown versus Count Down Showdown

Posted on Oct 04, 2017

What’s the difference between countdown and count down? We’re here to give you tips and examples to avoid confusing the two in the future!

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Here’s a scenario. You’re a renowned government agent trained to defuse bombs. The president, in a panic, has just informed you through text that there is a bomb in the premises. You try to reply to his message and state that you will “defuse said bomb before the end of the countdown.” Or was it... count down? You stand there, confused, distressed, staring at your phone in rage. The clock is ticking.

Like many words that people often mistake and use interchangeably, countdown and count down are compound words. On one hand, countdown is a closed compound, commonly observed as a noun form. On the other hand, count down is an open compound, used frequently as a verb. So it is indeed correct to say, “I will defuse the bomb before the end of the countdown,” but you can also say, “When did the bomb begin to count down? I will hurry and defuse it.”

Here are some examples for the closed compound countdown:

  1. People are gathering in Times Square for the New Year’s Eve countdown.

  2. I can’t stop listening to Europe’s song, “The Final Countdown.” It’s so catchy!

  3. Rocket launch sequence: T minus 10 seconds. Begin the countdown.

Likewise, here are some examples for the open compound count down:

  1. Did you count down from ten before ripping off your Band-Aid?

  2. They didn’t notice the timer had started counting down long before the game even began.

  3. She counted down the reasons to stay with him. They weren’t many.

While using count down in a sentence, make sure to modify count instead of down in the case of following different verb tenses. You would want to say that a music-show host is counting down (not count downing) the top 10 rap albums of the year or that a chess master counts down (not count downs) the time left on their opponent’s clock before their turn.

And there you have it! You can now use the terms countdown and count down correctly so long as you remember the rule of thumb: closed compounds equal nouns, and open compounds equal verbs or verb phrases. This rule also applies to many other words, such as come back (to return) or comeback (a witty retort) and take out (to exclude or remove) or takeout (food to be taken home from a restaurant).

Now get out there, and save the president before the bomb counts down to zero!

For more grammar tips, visit our 1-Hour Proofreading blog, and check out our previous Grammar Chaos entries.


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