We’ve all been there. You’re at your computer, typing furiously, rich prose flowing from your fingers and filling the pages in front of you. But suddenly, everything grinds to a halt. You’re stuck. The cursor blinks tauntingly at you as your mind spirals around those annoyingly ambiguous words: anytime vs any time.
Which one is it? Which one do you use?! Ah, to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous grammar rules! Such is the life of a writer.
Not to worry — we’ve got you covered.
The word anytime is an adverb meaning “whenever” or “at any moment.” As you’ll likely recall, you use adverbs to modify adjectives, verbs or other adverbs. You can use it just like you would other adverbs.
On the other hand, the phrase any time has a few different uses. Like anytime, it functions as an adverbial phrase. But it also functions as a noun phrase to indicate an unspecified amount or point in time.
The grammar rules can be a little confusing. To make matters worse, there are instances when you’ll want to avoid using the word anytime vs. any time, regardless of the rules. To understand why we’ll need a quick history lesson.
A Brief History of Anytime vs. Any Time
The English language grows and evolves over time. New words are created, old words disappear and existing words change meaning. How people speak has a big influence on this evolution. How people use words in conversation often makes their way into the written language.
If you were alive as a writer in the year 1821, your experience would be much different. Aside from candlelight and quills over standing lamps and laptops, you wouldn’t have a choice on whether to use any time or anytime. At this point in time, nobody used the word in writing — though people were likely saying it in conversations.
While the word anytime — and the source of our confusion — didn’t exist in print until 1822, it was likely used in conversations before then. It’s known as a casualism, which is when spoken words and phrases manage to weasel their way into written works. Words like gotcha, woulda and coulda are some other examples.
Because of this casual lineage, any time is often preferred in writing intended for a formal audience. If you’re working on an essay for college or a business proposal for a high-profile client, you’re better off ignoring anytime.
On the other hand, if your audience is casual, such as a blog post or a letter to a friend, anytime is perfectly acceptable. Indeed, it’s even preferred over its more stilted cousin in creative writing, especially where dialogue is concerned.
How to Use Anytime
Casualisms aside, there are rules to using anytime properly. As we touched on, the adverb anytime modifies a verb to indicate an indefinite or unspecified point in time for the verb’s action. It literally means “whenever.”
Let’s look at some examples. Take the following phrases:
- So long as it’s after my meeting, you can call anytime.
- Working as a freelance writer is great since I can do my work anytime.
- I love making my own food, so I’m happy to cook anytime.
Notice how anytime modifies the verbs: call, write and cook. You’ll often see it used at the end of a sentence like this, but we can certainly rearrange them with success:
- Feel free to call anytime after dinner.
- Being able to do my work anytime is what makes freelance writing great.
- I’m happy to cook anytime since I love making my own food.
So, assuming your writing is intended for an informal audience and you’re using the word to modify a verb, it’s perfectly acceptable to use anytime vs. any time. If you’re still unsure, a nice trick is to replace it with the word whenever — if the sentence still works, you’re good to go. If not, read on!
How to Use Any Time
The phrase any time can be used in two different contexts with slightly different meanings. Used as an adverb, it essentially means the same thing as anytime. It indicates that something could happen at some indefinite point in time. In this context, we can replace our previous examples, and they’re still correct:
- So long as it’s after my meeting, you can call any time.
- Working as a freelance writer is great since I can do my work any time.
- I love making my own food, so I’m happy to cook any time.
Functioning as an adverb, anytime vs. any time is essentially the same. But things get confusing because any time also functions as a noun phrase. Used in this way, it indicates an unspecified point or amount of time. Building off of our examples, you can see how the meanings change:
- I won’t have any time for a call until after my meeting.
- The ability to work at any time is what makes freelance writing great.
- I love making my own food, so I’m happy to cook if I have any time.
The last thing to keep in mind is that any time is the only form that you can use following a preposition. Prepositions require objects, which are nouns — they can’t be adverbs. So, if the sentence contains the word at, you’ll use the phrase any time:
- So long as it’s after my meeting, you can call at any time.
- Working as a freelance writer is great since I can do my work at any time.
- I love making my own food, so I’m happy to cook at any time.
Not Interchangeable, Sort Of
Unfortunately, because of the rules of grammar, you can’t simply exchange any time with anytime in your writing. Because it functions as both an adverbial phrase and a noun phrase, removing the space can break the meaning of your sentence.
That said, because any time is more flexible, you can use it to replace anytime. If you find that trying to remember the rules of anytime vs. any time is more headache than it’s worth, feel free to stick to just using any time. It works every time. Either way, be sure to double-check by proofreading your work!
So, there you have it: the history, nuances and sticky grammar rules for using anytime and any time. It seems like a lot to take in for one little space separating two short words. Should you need them, we’ve put a few tips together to help guide you:
- If you’re writing something formal, any time is more acceptable.
- When you see a preposition, always use any time.
- Check instances of any time by replacing it with whenever to see if it works.
There’s no denying that grammar is a little tricky at times, especially when you’re dealing with colloquialisms, casualisms and contractions. If you’d rather leave your content marketing to the pros, Crowd Content matches quality scriveners to webmasters and content marketers. With thousands of expert writers in our ranks, we can help you produce top-notch content anytime. Get in touch today to get started.