Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

As you’ve likely noticed by now, English is hardly the most logical language on the planet. We are taught all sorts of rules in school about how to spell certain words or how we should construct our sentences, only to learn of countless exceptions to said rules. Part of this is because English is effectively a mish-mash of several languages, borrowing terms from French, Spanish, German and more. En route is one such example. Or is it enroute? Doesn’t on route make more logical sense?

Parlez-Vous Francais?

Like so many English phrases and idioms, the best way to tackle this little conundrum is go to back to the source. Unsurprisingly, the term en route is borrowed from the French. It literally translates to mean “on the road,” which is extended to mean “on the way.” If you’re driving from the zoo to the park, but you’re stopping at the market along the way, you could say:

“I’m going to stop at the market en route to the park from the zoo.”

Conventional practice in English is to italicize terms that are borrowed from other languages, but since “en route” has been a part of the common English vernacular for so long, most people don’t bother with italicizing it anymore.

Traveling on Route 66

But is “en route” the only correct spelling? Yes and no. It depends on how loose you are with your English rules.

One alternative is to write the term as a single word: enroute. When I type this into my web browser, it’s being picked up as a spelling In the strictest sense, this may be true. However, the single word “enroute” is increasingly common; a Google search yields over 16 million results. Personally, I prefer writing it as a one word for no real reason in particular.

Another alternative you may encounter is on route. As mentioned, this makes a lot more logical sense, because you are literally on the route. Like the single word form, on route is slowly gaining in favor as well. Many of us may view this as an error, similar to “for all intensive purposes.” And in the strictest sense, it still is. At best, on route is nonstandard unless you’re talking about a specific road, like saying you’re driving on Route 66.

I Speak Fluent American?

At the same time, this could once again be a prime example of the difference between Canadian and American English. Canadian English maintains more of its British (and French) influence, whereas American English more readily drops this influence. That’s why Canadians are more likely to pronounce “foyer” as “foy-yay,” whereas Americans might call it a “foy-yur.”

So, what is the take-home lesson here? The traditional idiom is en route and purists will likely stick with that spelling. In more formal texts, en route is going to be more common. In more casual writing, however, many people may choose to write the term as enroute or on route instead. English is constantly evolving and these alternatives are gaining increased acceptance, particularly when you pay attention to the audience being addressed.

Do you prefer en route, enroute or on route?