Q&A: Anytime vs any time

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Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we like learning about “any time” anytime we like…

Q: Hi AWC, I almost joined a gym today – one of those 24 hour ones where it’s socially acceptable to do squats in public at 3am.

A: What do you mean by “almost” joined?

Q: Well, I’d had the tour and was thoroughly reading the contract. You see, I get nervous ever since I last tried joining a “24/7 gym”.

A: What happened last time?

Q: It had turned out in the fine print that I could only access it on 24/7 – July 24. Very misleading.

A: Oh dear.

Q: So anyway, I was checking this one and refused to sign it. They had written “anytime” as one word in the sentence “You can access the gym at anytime”… that’s wrong!

A: This gym wouldn’t by any chance be called––

Q: ––The name is unimportant. I just want to know if you have any time to discuss this “anytime” issue today?

A: We sure do. Looks like you’re all warmed up. Shall we begin?

Q: Any time you’re ready.

A: We’ll let’s first address the elephant in the room.

Q: Hey, that’s funny – they had that same thing written on the gym wall.

A: Right, well we’re talking about the fact that “anytime” and “any time” are BOTH legit words.

Q: So are you saying that you can use them interchangeably?

A: No, we’re not saying that.

Q: Good.

A: For the purists – which you clearly are – writing “any time” as two words is the historically correct version for everything. And even today, if in doubt – write it as two words and you won’t be wrong.

Q: So why then would anyone use “anytime”?

A: Besides brevity, perhaps because “anytime” can only ever be used as an adverb.

Q: Examples?

A: “Come over anytime tonight” or “Anytime she’s in town, we go dancing”.

Q: But you earlier said I could use “any time” instead and it wouldn’t be wrong.

A: Indeed – “Come over any time tonight” and “Any time she’s in town, we go dancing” can also work.

Q: Any exceptions?

A: You can’t use anytime with a preposition like “at ”. If you have a preposition, you’ll need to use the two-word version. So in your contract, they were indeed wrong to say “You can access the gym at anytime”.

Q: Why?

A: Because you don’t have your keycard yet.

Q: No, I mean why can’t it be “at anytime”?

A: Probably because “anytime” means “whenever” and that’s too vague for a preposition. You’d need to rewrite it as either “You can access the gym anytime” or “You can access the gym at any time”.

Q: Okay.

A: This leads us to the other job of the two-word “any time” – as a noun phrase, literally meaning “any amount of time”.

Q: Examples?

A: “I don’t have any time to spare” or “I didn’t spend any time on my homework”.

Q: Or “Any time under 10 seconds is fast for the 100 metre sprint”.

A: That’s right. You can’t use the one-word “anytime” for any of these.

Q: So, you could just use two-word version for everything, but maybe it’s good to have the one-word option to make things easier.

A: Yes, we recommend it. It’s shorter and it removes the ambiguity that you get when using the same phrase for everything.

Q: Can I have one final example that’s also a shameless plug?

A: Certainly. In the statement “With AWC’s online courses, you can learn anywhere, anytime”, we chose the one-word version for style reasons – the repetition of “anywhere, anytime” works best. We might also choose to write “You can learn from anywhere and at any time.”

Q: So you can learn anytime, or you can learn any time, and you can learn at any time, but you can NEVER learn at anytime?

A: That’s it!

Q: Right, I’m off to fix that gym contract. Thanks for your help.

A: Anytime.

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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