If something happens twice in the same week, does it happen bi-weekly or semi-weekly? What about an event that occurs once every other week?
These questions of semi-weekly vs. bi-weekly are not quite as simple as they would seem. It has become common practice, especially in informal writing and spoken English, to use bi-weekly in each of these situations. Strictly speaking, this usage is incorrect.
The prefixes bi- and semi- modify the adverb weekly in different ways. Bi-weekly and semi-weekly are not interchangeable, despite what you might hear in everyday English.
So which of these words is which? There is an easy way to cut through the confusion by remembering other words that use these same prefixes, and have obvious meanings.
What is the Difference Between Bi-Weekly and Semi-Weekly?
In this post, I will compare bi-weekly vs. semi-weekly. I will include some example sentences so that you can see each term in various contexts.
I will conclude by giving you a memory tool that helps when you need to choose semi-weekly or semi-weekly.
When to Use Bi-Weekly
What does bi-weekly mean? Something that occurs bi-weekly occurs every other week, in other words, once every two weeks.
The prefix bi- means two: a bicycle has two wheels, and a binary star system is two stars orbiting around each other.
Here are some examples of bi-weekly in a sentence,
- Jeffrey and I were rewarded for the hours we worked at the restaurant with bi-weekly paychecks, which always seemed too small.
- The bi-weekly parent teacher association meetings were always a source of high drama and intrigue.
- Typical borrowers make their mortgage payments monthly. Some, however, make bi-weekly payments to reduce the term of their loans. –The Wall Street Journal
When to Use Semi-Weekly
What does semi-weekly mean? Something that occurs semi-weekly, by contrast, occurs every half-week, or twice a week.
Tip 14: Biannual/Semiannual & Biweekly/Semiweekly –
When to use ‘biannual/semiannual’ and ‘biweekly/semiweekly’
‘Biannual’ and ‘semiannual’ both mean twice a year.
‘Biennial’ means every two years.
Biweekly meetings occur every two weeks.
‘Semiweekly’ meetings occur twice a week. Since most people can’t keep them straight, just say “every other week” or “twice weekly.”
A note from our Editor
Question: “As ‘bimonthly’ means twice a month, is there a short term for ‘every two months’?”
Answer: According to the Handbook of Technical Writing (ninth edition), bi- / semi- When used with periods of time, bi- means “two” or “every two,” as in bimonthly, which means “once in two months.”
When used with periods of time, semi- means “half of” or “occurring twice within a period of time.” Semimonthly means “twice a month.” Both bi- and semi- normally are joined with the following element without a space or hyphen.
So-bimonthly = every two months, and semimonthly means twice a month.
I think the best way to keep this straight is NOT to use the term, but rather to state the occurrence specifically.
I also went to the ‘Ask Oxford’ website at http://oxforddictionaries.com/page/meaningbimonthly?view=uk and found the following:
Does bimonthly mean ‘twice a month’ or ‘every two months’?
I’m afraid it means both! But in the publishing industry, it is used fairly consistently to mean ‘every two months.’ The same ambiguity affects biweekly and biyearly. If you want to be absolutely clear, use a phrase such as ‘twice a week’ or ‘every two years.’
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If someone told you paychecks came out biweekly, would you give them a confused look and say, “Twice a week? Why so often?” And if someone said a class met semiweekly on Wednesdays, would you ask them if that was “the first and third or the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month?” Yes to both? Then read on.
Bi- means “two,” so something that is biweekly occurs every two weeks or every other week. For example, We receive our paychecks biweeekly or about twice a month.
Semi- means “half,” so something that is semi-weekly occurs every half-week or twice a week. To wit, The class meets semi-weekly on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
Though you now know the difference between the two words, your readers still might not. To prevent confusion, instead write “every other week” for biweekly and “every two weeks” for semiweekly.
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The difference between semimonthly and biweekly payroll
The difference between a semimonthly and a biweekly payroll is that the semimonthly one is paid 24 times per year, and the biweekly one is paid 26 times per year.
A semimonthly payroll is paid twice a month, usually on the 15th and last days of the month. If one of these pay dates falls on a weekend, the payroll is instead paid out on the preceding Friday.
A biweekly payroll is paid every other week, usually on a Friday.
From an efficiency perspective, the semimonthly payroll is preferable, since there are two fewer payrolls per year to prepare. Also, it is somewhat easier to apportion salaries and wages among the correct months with the semimonthly method, since there is less need for month-end adjusting entries.
From the perspective of employee relations, the biweekly payroll is preferable, since employees become accustomed to being paid approximately twice each month, and then receive two extra “free” paychecks each year. Further, it is easier for employees to budget for cash receipts every other Friday, rather than receipts that may be accelerated or delayed by the presence of weekends and holidays.
From an organizational perspective, it is somewhat easier for the payroll staff to prepare a biweekly payroll, since processing steps always take place on the same day of each week (unless holidays interfere). When a semimonthly payroll is used, processing steps constantly shift around among different days of the week, since the pay date is not fixed on a specific day of the week.
Some organizations settle upon a combination of payrolls, using the semimonthly approach for salaried workers and a biweekly payroll for hourly employees. From an efficiency perspective, the main point is to avoid weekly payrolls in favor of either of the methods presented here, thereby cutting the total number of payrolls in half.
How to Audit Payroll Optimal Accounting for Payroll Payroll Management
The Prefixes Bi and Semi
- If you receive a paycheck on the fifteenth and thirtieth of each month, are you paid bimonthly or semimonthly?
- If a newspaper is published every two weeks, it is a biweekly or a bimonthly publication?
- The answer is not simple.
If we check Webster’s for definitions of each prefix, we find that although semi always means “half,” the prefix bi can mean either “every two” or “twice.” Thus, bimonthly can mean either “every two months” or “twice a month.”
Webster’s warns us that when using the prefix bi, we should give the reader clues about which meaning we intend. And when you are the reader, you should make sure you know which meaning the writer intends. Before you decide to pay $19.95 for a bimonthly magazine, read the fine print to find out if you will receive six issues a year or twenty-four.
When we mean twice (as in “twice a week” or “twice a month”), we can avoid ambiguity by using the prefix semi (as in semiweekly for “twice a week” and semimonthly for “twice a month”) even though technically we could use the prefix bi.
Two final notes:
- We have a special word—biennial—that means “occurring every two years.” The word biannual has only one meaning: “occurring twice a year.” Biannual is thus interchangeable with semiannual, although biannual is less preferable if we wish to avoid any chance of misreading by folks who are not thoroughly familiar with these definitions.
- Never use a hyphen with either of these prefixes unless the root word begins with the letter i, as in semi-independent, semi-invalid, and semi-infinite.
Which prefix—bi or semi—would be the better (that is, the less ambiguous) choice for a word to describe each situation below?
- occurring twice a week
- occurring every two months
- occurring every two years
- occurring twice a year
- occurring twice a month
- semiweekly (Biweekly is acceptable but potentially ambiguous.)
- bimonthly (Be careful to provide context clues so the reader does not think you mean “twice a month.
- semiannual (Biannual is also correct but potentially ambiguous to readers unfamiliar with the difference between biennial and biannual.)
- semimonthly (Bimonthly is acceptable but potentially ambiguous.
Copyright 2001 Get It Write. Revised 2018.
The Pros and Cons: Biweekly vs. Semimonthly Payroll
Deciding on a pay frequency for a small business is an important decision. Pay frequency determines how often the business must process payroll and when employees receive their paychecks.
There are four common pay period options, including weekly, biweekly, semimonthly, and monthly. Two popular, yet easily confused, pay periods are biweekly and semimonthly. Knowing the difference between biweekly vs.
semimonthly payroll can prevent financial setbacks, keep the business legally compliant, and more.
Biweekly and semimonthly can be confusing because employees generally receive two payments per month. However, there’s more to these pay periods than meets the eye.
Number of paychecks per year
With a biweekly pay schedule, there are two months in the year where employees receive three paychecks. Employees who are paid semimonthly always receive two paychecks per month. Companies that run payroll with a biweekly frequency dole out a total of 26 paychecks per year. Companies that use semimonthly pay give employees 24 paychecks per year.
Because the payroll is processed fewer times for semimonthly frequencies than biweekly, employees’ paychecks will be greater. Biweekly paychecks will be be for less money, but employees will receive the two additional paychecks to make up the difference.
Let’s say an employee makes $42,000.00 per year. If they are paid biweekly, their gross wages would be approximately $1,615.38 every other week ($42,000.00 / 26).
If they are paid semimonthly, their gross wages would be $1,750.00 ($42,000.00 / 24).
Over the course of a year, the employee will receive the same amount of money and owe the same amount of taxes, regardless of which payment frequency you use.
Another difference between semimonthly vs. biweekly pay is what day of the week you run payroll and which day employees receive their paychecks. If the payroll is run biweekly, employees receive their wages the same day each pay period.
For example, employees will be consistently paid every other Friday, so the payroll is run on the same day each pay period. With semimonthly payroll, the employees are paid on specific dates, such as the 15th and last weekday of each month.
As a result, the days of the week will differ: An employee might get paid on a Friday and Tuesday.
Biweekly payroll is the most popular payment option. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 36.5% of employees are paid biweekly. On the other hand, only 19.8% of employees are paid using the semimonthly payroll frequency.
Choosing between semimonthly vs. biweekly payroll
Deciding between biweekly vs. semimonthly payroll can be a difficult decision, especially because federal pay laws state that businesses must keep the same frequency throughout the year.
Before choosing, keep in mind that states regulate how often employees must be paid and some states may not allow ceretain pay frequencies.
Businesses should check with their state before choosing how often to run payroll.
Cons of running a semimonthly payroll
First, consider how many employees there are and which ones are hourly or salaried. Running a semimonthly payroll for hourly employees is more difficult and confusing than doing so for salaried employees, especially when workers earn overtime pay. To combat this, it may be beneficial to process payroll semimonthly for salaried employees and biweekly for hourly workers.
The lack of consistency with semimonthly payroll can also be a turnoff for some businesses and employees. Since payroll will be processed on a different day of the week, the person running payroll could lose track of that responsibility.
Also, employees might not be sure which day they get paid. Running semimonthly payroll can be particularly difficult to track when weekends and holidays come into play.
If payday falls on a holiday or weekend, te payroll will either need to be paid in advance or delayed through the weekend or holiday, adding another factor to the processing duties.
Cons of running a biweekly payroll
There are setbacks to running biweekly payroll, too. When employees are paid semimonthly, salaried workers receive the same amount to employees each month.
The extra two paychecks for biweekly pay frequencies can make budgeting more challenging if the business doesn't properly prepare for months with three paychecks.
The business needs to make sure it has enough money in its payroll account to cover the additional expenses.
For instance: A business with 10 employees who each earn $1,500 in gross wages per paycheck. In months with three paychecks, the business will need to have an additional $15,000 on hand.
Also, keep in mind that some payroll providers charge the business for each payroll run, which can result in higher annual costs for those who process payroll biweekly compared to semimonthly. The business may consider choosing a provider that allows unlimited payroll runs, regardless of frequency.
Rachel Blakely-Gray is a writer for Patriot Software, a provider of payroll and human resources management solutions for small businesses.
The Advantages of Bi-Weekly Vs. Semi-Monthly Payroll
By Sam Ashe-Edmunds Updated March 06, 2019
While it might seem that paying employees every other week works out to the same thing, there are some key differences that will affect your choice of payroll timing. The benefits of a bi-weekly payroll primarily help your employees, while perhaps helping keep your payroll work more consistent.
A bi-weekly payroll occurs every other week, such as every other Friday. A semi-monthly payroll occurs twice each month on specific dates, such as the 15th and 30th. In February, the end-of-the-month pay date would need to be moved forward for semi-monthly paychecks, in addition to those that fall on a weekend.
One of the key advantages of a bi-weekly payroll is that employees know they have a paycheck coming every other Friday – or whatever day you choose – and what the exact amount is.
While it shouldn’t be hard to circle your calendar twice a month to know when you’re getting your semi-weekly check, some of these pay dates fall on a weekend, leading to confusion as to when employees will get paid, especially for new hires.
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Bi-weekly payroll for employees provides less consistency in your budgeting, since some months will have three payrolls and others two. You'll also have different amounts for benefits calculations in some months. However, the extra accounting work for bi-weekly payroll is not significant and might be worth it to maintain employee morale.