The Grammarphobia Blog

Ask us anytime (or any time?)

Q: My cousin and I were just reviewing a business letter, and the word(s) “any time” became a question: Is there a difference between “any time” and “anytime”?

A: The two-word version, “any time,” is a noun phrase that means something like “any amount of time” or “any particular time.”

Examples: “You never seem to have any time for your mother” … “Is there any time when you’re free next week?”

The single word, “anytime,” is an adverb (that is, it modifies a verb), and its meaning is similar to “whenever,” “on any occasion,” or “at any time.”

Examples: “You can call me anytime” … “Do this anytime your iPad freezes” … “He can sleep anytime.”

In her grammar and usage book Woe Is I (3rd ed.), Pat uses an example that combines the terms: “The boss will see you anytime she has any time.”

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage explains the use of these terms by citing the advice given by the language writer Edward D. Johnson.

In The Handbook of Good English (1982), Johnson says one word is all right when it can be replaced by the phrase “at any time,” but otherwise the two-word spelling should be used.

“Johnson’s rule of thumb is a sensible one,” M-W adds, “though occasionally it is not observed.”

Interestingly, “anytime” is a relatively recent usage.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) says the adverb dates back only to 1926, but the Oxford English Dictionary has an earlier, century-old example.

Under the OED entry for the verbal phrase “to send round” is this quotation from 1912: “I will leave the basket; you can send it round anytime. I will send round tomorrow to inquire how the patient is.”

Although “anytime” shows up in a couple of dozen OED citations, the dictionary doesn’t yet have an actual entry for the adverb.

It does, however, have entries for such compounds as “anyhow,” “anyhoo,” “anyplace,” “anyways,” “anywhat,” “anywhen,” “anywhence,,” “anywhither,” and “anywise.”

Some usage guides say “anytime” is typically American. For instance, Fowler’s Modern English Usage (revised 3rd ed.) says “anytime” (meaning “at any time”) is “another characteristically American adverb.”

So is “anytime” American? Well, many of the OED citations are American, but some are from British, Australian, South African, and other sources.

Other one-word adverbs favored by Americans, according to Fowler, are “anyplace” (in the sense of “anywhere”) and “anymore” (meaning “any longer”).

But Fowler adds that “anymore” is gaining acceptance with British writers and publishing houses.

We’ve written on our blog, by the way, about another use of “anymore”—to mean “now” or “nowadays.”

Check out our books about the English language