1

This question comes from this ELL post (about putting the word nonetheless at the end of a sentence).

Per Cambridge dictionary, "Nonetheless" should be in the form of one word.

So, is it unacceptable to use "none the less" in a formal expression?

Which one should I use in a formal expression?

2

"Nonetheless" was once commonly written as "none the less." However, that that is no longer the case is indicated by the Online Etymology Dictionary, which – as @J.R. has noted in a comment – says that "none the less" was "contracted into one word from c. 1930":

https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=nonetheless&source=ds_search

Though the use of the contracted form did not immediately become universal, its use is now so widespread, and in most quarters so uncontroversial, that the older form has vanished from many dictionaries. For example, if you search for "none the less" on the Cambridge Dictionary website – using either the U.K. or the U.S. dictionary – you don't get a definition, but a page that lists words with similar spellings, beginning with "nonetheless":

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/spellcheck/english/?q=None+the+less

Once in a while, you may find a dictionary (either online or in print) that contains a kind of "dummy" entry for "none the less" that points you to "nonetheless," like this:

https://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/dictionary/british/none-the-less

In other cases, an online dictionary may automatically correct "none the less" to "nonetheless" for you, right in the search box. You can try this yourself at Merriam-Webster's site:

https://www.merriam-webster.com

And I did find one online dictionary that, while using "nonetheless" as the preferred spelling, does include "none the less" as a variant – though tellingly, even in this case, both usage examples use "nonetheless":

https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/nonetheless

In short, you may sometimes encounter "none the less" in print or online, especially in older sources or in modern ones that have not been rigorously edited. (And of course, the same is true for historical spellings, variant spellings, and misspellings of many other words, including compound words.) Once in a while, you may even encounter it in a source that has been rigorously edited, but by someone who has an idiosyncratic attachment to the older form. However, there is a strong consensus among educated native speakers in the present day – including the compilers of the above dictionaries and many others – that "nonetheless" is the correct or preferred form. Accordingly, if you write "none the less," it is likely that many of your readers will think you have made a mistake.

2

First, you don't have to spell it as a single word. The open form, although less common, can still be used. It's not wrong, but it's not typical either.

However, while it's true that nonetheless is a single word, and that it is used as such for its dictionary meaning of nevertheless, that doesn't mean that there aren't some sentences where the three individual words should be used instead.

In other words, you may not actually mean to say nevertheless—but really want to use the three words on their own.

For example:

? They were none the less tired after three hours of rest than they had been when they stopped hiking.

While this looks a bit strange, and it isn't completely idiomatic, because we're not used to hearing the three separate words in this manner, it's not actually asyntactic, and the use of the comparative indicates that none the less is not being used as the single word that means nevertheless:

✘ They were nevertheless tired after three hours of rest than they had been when they stopped hiking.

✔ They were no less tired after three hours of rest than they had been when they stopped hiking.

As such, the open form of the spelling can produce two different senses, while the closed form can only produce one.

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