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Not really a serious English question, more like a curiosity.

I am wondering, why "backyard" is written as one word but "front yard" is written as two separate words. Equivalently, why are both "back yard" [two words] and "frontyard" [one word] incorrect?

What "rule" (or standard practice) determines which words can be combined into one and which can't?

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As explained in DailyWritingTips:

Front and Back

For some perverse reason, a few common compounds that include front, and their back correspondents, are treated differently: “front door,” backdoor (but only as an adjective); “front seat,” backseat; “front yard,” backyard. How could this have happened?

Perhaps it’s the ubiquity of other closed compounds beginning with back (such as backache, background, and backlash) compared to the absence of front-loaded analogues. Speaking of front-load, compounds beginning with front, such as that word and “front man,” are invariably open or hyphenated, and if they have back counterparts (you can back-load, but no one refers to a back man), those are also open or hyphenated.

Another contributing factor may be that back constructions are idiomatically richer: “backdoor man,” “backseat driver,” and “backyard grill” have given compounds beginning with back a higher profile, so it’s likely they tend to evolve from open to closed compounds with greater alacrity — becoming front-runners, as it were.

11

Collins considers "back yard" as two words permissible in British English.

Of course, in British English the standard term is usually "back garden" (always two words), but "yard" might be used if the area was paved (as Collins indicates). "Back yard" is also used metaphorically, which "back garden" rarely is.

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    I would consider "back garden" to be a place where plants (other than trees or grass) are grown, so if you have flowers or vegetables back there, it's a "back garden". If it's just a grassy field, it's a "back yard". You might have a "back garden" in your "back yard" if it's a mix. (This might just be US usage though.) – Darrel Hoffman Jan 4 at 16:08
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    Yes, it is US usage. To a Brit, the term "yard" suggests an area free of grass. While usually a British garden includes at least a few flowers, it would still be called a garden even if it consisted solely of a lawn. – rjpond Jan 4 at 16:41
  • The house I grew up in (Yorkshire, UK) had both a back yard, paved (originally in bricks) surrounded entirely by tall brick wall, then a driveway (traversing the property ≈horizontally) behind which was an entire back garden. – gone fishin' again. Jan 4 at 19:52
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It's more often to see people say "backyard" than "front yard".

It's the frequency with the two words. "front yard" is much less common than "backyard", that's why "front yard" is in two words.

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    References? Supporting evidence? Just your opinion? What about front seat vs back seat, front end vs back end, front door vs back door... – Mari-Lou A Jan 3 at 19:11
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    What you're saying here is that "front yard" is two words because "front yard" is two words... – TonyK Jan 4 at 13:20

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