We’ve all tried to see the positive side of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it’s pollution subsiding in India or having more time to bake sourdough bread at home. In the grammar world, we hope that coronavirus is shedding a light on how to use certain terminology properly.

The phrase “social distance” and its variants are everywhere these days — on signs, billboards, TV, social media, in emails, the news — you name it. Sometimes they’re correct and other times, when incorrectly used, they’re cringeworthy.

Here are some examples of how to use these terms properly, so you can socially distance yourself from bad grammar:


Social distance

What it is: “Distance” is a noun modified by “social,” an adjective.

How to use it: The two candidates maintained social distance while on the debate stage.

How NOT to use it: Men were most likely to social distance themselves when walking around a grocery store. (In this example, using this phrase as a verb is incorrect.)


Socially distance/socially distancing/socially distanced

What it is: “Distance” is a verb modified by “socially,” an adverb, to form a transitive verb.

How to use it:

  • Nearly half of all women indicated they would be more likely to socially distance themselves from people not wearing masks indoors.
  • When they entered the gymnasium, we immediately noticed some of the women socially distancing themselves from certain study participants.
  • The results of the study showed more than half of women socially distanced themselves from maskless people.

How NOT to use it: Socially distance is a good measurement to ensure you don’t get COVID-19.

Social distancing

What it is: “Distancing” is a noun modified by “social,” an adjective.

How to use it: Social distancing will be in effect starting today and lasting indefinitely.

How not to use it: We are social distancing ourselves from our significant others, who decided to attend the Sturgis motorcycle rally.


Socially distant

What it is: “Distant” is an adjective modified by “socially,” an adverb.

How to use it: Suze remained socially distant from her sister, who wasn’t sure if she contracted the virus.

How not to use it: Be sure to socially distant yourself from your sister!

Pro tip: Most often you can simply use “socially distanced” in place of “socially distant.”

—Sarah Muench