Word Confusion: Heart Beat versus Heartbeat

Posted September 14, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

No, no, no, no…it’s an incomplete sentence. It makes me nuts when writers have their characters hear the heart beats. The heart beats what? Or maybe I should ask who the heart is beating up?

When you look at it, heart beat is a phrase combining a noun and a verb. It must be treated as a noun and a verb. The character would “hear the beats of their heart” or “how the heart beats”, maybe
“how quickly his heart beats”, and make a lot more sense.

If what you want is a noun and just a noun, you want heartbeat. It’s one word: “a victim’s heartbeats” or “her heartbeats gave her away”, which is another thing entirely.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

Heart Beat Heartbeat
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

Painting of The Lovers by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Image by Dante Gabriel Rossetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My heart beats for The Lovers.

Cartoon image of a beating heart

The GIF is by Nevit Dilme’s opwn work [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons while the audio file is by Herbert Boland.

Part of Grammar:
Phrase: Noun + Verb

More of a metaphor

Usually heartbeats

More science- or tech-oriented

This phrase generally is interpreted with:

  • heart as “the center of a person’s thoughts and emotions, especially love or compassion or one’s mood or feeling”
  • beat as a metaphor for feeling

It can also be quite literal.

One complete pulsation of the heart

  • An animating or vital unifying force

A brief space of time

The vampire heard his beating heart.

My heart beat for her.

The vampire heard the heartbeat of his victim.

He is the man who is just a heartbeat away from the presidency.

I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Conflict is the essential heartbeat of fiction.

Her heartbeats steadied as the injection took effect.

I accepted their offer in a heartbeat.

History of the Word:
First known use: 1850

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C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?