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Definition from Oxford language

Bi-Monthly: done, produced, or occurring twice a month or every two months.

How can I ensure it is correctly interpreted as every two months instead of twice a month? I am thinking of a single word instead of a phrase.


EDITED:

Thanks everyone who weighs in. As a non-native English speaker and a new learner, I find it strange that bi-monthly can mean once every two months and twice per month.

Let's say if someone says you will be billed bi-monthly or you have to make a payment bi-monthly How will it be interpreted if no context is given?

I am writing a list like below

  • Monthly
  • Bi-Monthly
  • Quarterly
  • Bi-Annually
  • Annually

If no context is provided, I believe it is understandable that bi-monthly means once every two months.

However, if I were to rearrange the list like this

  • Bi-Monthly
  • Monthly
  • Quarterly
  • Bi-Annually
  • Annually

It will be interpreted as twice per month although what I want to mean is actually once every two months.

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According to an article in the LA Times, the ambiguity exists more in theory than in practice, since if you refer to being paid bi-monthly, people will interpret it as meaning twice a month, whereas if you refer to a publication being released bi-monthly, people will interpret it as meaning once every two months:

Fascinatingly, it seems no one got confused by these two different meanings of the prefix “bi-.” When a worker who got paid every 15 days said he was paid bimonthly, everyone knew what he meant. And when the same worker said his magazine that arrived six times a year was “bimonthly,” everyone knew what he meant. (LA Times)

It goes on to say, quoting Merriam-Webster's usage guide:

“In the publishing world,” reports the usage guide, “everyone assumes you know ‘bimonthly’ means every two months. … On the other hand, we have evidence that in the world of education, ‘bimonthly’ usually means ‘twice a month.’”

Still, if you want to avoid ambiguity entirely, you can't use "bi-monthly".

"Two-monthly" would unambiguously mean "every two months", but isn't particularly common.

"Fortnightly" unambiguously means "every two weeks" (which isn't necessarily quite the same thing as twice a month, since most months are slightly longer than four weeks). "Fortnightly" is a rare word in the US, but is very common and well known in the UK.

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There is unfortunately no unambiguous single word for this. The best you can do is "every two months" or "every other month."

As you noted, "bi-monthly" can be taken to mean either twice a month or every two months. "Semi-monthly" unambiguously means twice a month. The same trouble exists with biennial, biannual and semi-annual. In my opinion this is the result of sloppy usage and education, but the ambiguity is pervasive enough that it's a fact we have to deal with (as you can see in the dictionary definitions).

For other time periods, there are sometimes unambiguous options, like quarterly for every 3 months or fortnightly (uncommon) for every 2 weeks.

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  • It seems like "fortnightly" is often used to describe the frequency of a publication, e.g. He wrote articles for a fortnightly magazine. I see it used much less than "every two weeks" in other situations. I suppose "biweekly" has exactly the same ambiguity problem as "bimonthly", so "every two weeks" would be my choice.
    – ColleenV
    May 17 at 14:12
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    I have heard it said that American English does not know of fortnights. May 17 at 14:27
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    @MichaelHarvey I'm American (expat) so at least some of us do ;-)
    – TypeIA
    May 17 at 14:46
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    People tell me that every couple of weeks. May 17 at 14:47
  • Thanks! I've edited the OP to add more thoughts. Eg. You have to make a payment bi-monthly. will you interpret it as once every two months or twice per month? May 18 at 22:39
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The confusion primarily exists among those who have had no reason to learn the difference between the two. For example, you are 17 years old and have never received a paycheck. When I was 17, I misunderstood Bi-Monthly to mean twice a month.

  • Bi-Monthly - Every two months. If you receive a paycheck on Jan 1, March 1, May 1, etc., you are being paid Bi-Monthly. Almost no one is the U.S. is paid Bi-Monthly. As others have said, Bi-Monthly is mostly seen in periodical distribution frequencies.
  • Semi-Monthly - Twice a month. In the case of paychecks, usually spaced as evenly as possible within the month.

People should be expected to know this. In the U.S. this is standard. Of course, there are those who don't know this. Explain it to them if you have a chance.

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    It is patently untrue that your interpretation is a “standard”. The only standard that can be applied to English is whether there is a consensus among credible dictionaries, and in this case dictionaries list two possible meanings. Many people are puzzled about bimonthly and biweekly, which are often ambiguous because they are formed from two different senses of bi-: "occurring every two" and "occurring two times." This ambiguity has been in existence for nearly a century and cannot be eliminated by the dictionary. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bimonthly
    – ColleenV
    May 18 at 16:01
  • @ColleenV - I have to disagree. As rjpond points out in his answer the ambiguity only exists in theory. Show me someone who says "bi-montly" to mean twice per month and I will show you someone who is at odds with the standard interpretation but who is understood and therefor uncorrected.
    – EllieK
    May 18 at 17:01
  • You’ve misunderstood rjpond’s answer. “In the publishing world, everyone assumes you know ‘bimonthly’ means every two months. …in the world of education, ‘bimonthly’ usually means ‘twice a month.’” There is no “standard” across all of the people that speak AmE that “bimonthly” means every two months.
    – ColleenV
    May 18 at 17:53
  • @ColleenV - That does explain a lot. I have noticed that when the formally educated and their associated systems make a gross error, the error is presented as a valid take. File this under the nonplussed conundrum. Someone, somewhere, decided that word could also mean its opposite, rendering its future use pointless and clouding all previous uses of the word. It wasn't a welder in Liverpool, is my guess.
    – EllieK
    May 19 at 12:33

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