Q&A: Anytime vs any time

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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