JS Tip 93: From the Writing Workshops: Combining Words (Part Two)

Carol Oman of Wells Fargo asks, “When should we join—or not join—words? Like ‘anytime’ or ‘any time’?”

Good question.

Tough answer.

We’ll specifically address “anytime” and “any time.”

It depends on the meaning.

It depends on the geography.

One answer at a time.

Meaning. “Anytime” has the sense of “at any time whatsoever” or “whenever”:

I can meet with you anytime. (I can meet with you whenever you want. Today. Tomorrow. A week from Tuesday.)

“Any time” has the sense of “any quantity of time” or “any portion of time”:

I don’t have any time today. (There’s no portion of my schedule, no hours, no minutes, I can spare.)

Geography. American English accepts “anytime” (and accepted it for more than two hundred years). British English views “anytime” as an “Americanism” and discourages it. Your counterpart in Manchester would write, “I can meet with you any time.”

Our Counsel

Be careful. Use a good dictionary (usually one not more than ten years old). Notice the “usage” discussions in the dictionary. Read them. Use them. And remember that English is not a logical language.

If you have questions, let us know. We love this stuff.

Next week: More of your questions. When do we combine—or not combine—words like “ball cap,” “ball-cap,” or “ballcap”? Which is right? Appropriate? How do we know?

Answer to last week’s trivia question: Who taught at Medfield College? The absent-minded professor: Professor Ned Brainard (Fred MacMurray in Walt Disney’s 1961 The Absent-minded Professor); also Professor Phillip Brainard (Robin Williams in Disney’s 1997 Flubber.)