You’ve heard it said that two are better than one. It is often true in regard to brainpower (two heads together think better than one alone) or laboring (some wisdom from King Solomon) and is always true in regard to cookies (at least, for me).
But this rule is not always true for words. Two words are not always better than one, especially if it changes the intended meaning. Today’s Which Word Wednesday tackles the usage of anytime (one word) versus any time (two words) to prove when the opening axiom is correct.
Let’s look first to the New Oxford American Dictionary:
anytime :: adverb
at whatever time; without exception or doubt
any [time] :: determiner / pronoun
used to refer to one or some of a thing or number of things, no matter how much or many
As one word, anytime takes on an aloof air a la Alicia Silverstone in Clueless—use it when there’s no need to get specific with plans, as the event in question can happen whenever.
As two words, the phrase any time refers to one of something in particular. Use it when you are making plans, giving several options to choose from—the plans can happen at any one of those times.
Mark Davidson explains it like this:
You can write: “My veterinarian is available for emergency house calls at any time.” Or you can write, “My veterinarian is available for emergency house calls anytime.” But if you write that your vet is available at anytime, you’re redundantly stating that the vet is available “at at any time.”1
So there you have it. Everything hinges on the presence of a third word, at. Your options are:
Be here anytime. = Be here whenever.
Be here at any time. = Be here at a specific time.
What’s my WWW verdict? In this case, it looks like three words are even better than two but sometimes one word is all you need.
What’s your verdict? Have you ever wondered about anytime vs. any time? Do you remember Clueless? Do share in the comments.
Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.
1. Mark Davidson, Right, Wrong, and Risky: A Dictionary of Today’s American English Usage (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006), 78.