Certain words seem to be more ambiguous than others when it comes to their usage within grammar. For example, “anytime” is a part of our everyday vocabulary, but do we really know how to write and use it correctly?
“Anytime” is most commonly used as an adverb and should therefore be expressed as one word. When it takes an adverbial phrase form, in which “any” functions as an adjective and “time” takes the form of a noun it is used as two words.
Therefore, one must dive deeper into the definition of “anytime” to know how best to use this term.
What Does “Anytime” Mean?
The word “anytime” is a compound word made up of “any” and “time” and simply means “at any time” (source). More specifically, the term refers to an unspecified or undisclosed point in time. When the term is one word, it functions as an adverb.
Ironically, the verb “anytime” modifies is being modified and limited to an action that does not have a specified time.
“Any time” is only different grammatically from its compounded counterpart in that it is an adverbial or noun phrase. In this case, “any” would function as an adjective, and “time” would serve as a noun.
Therefore, this term, when in a noun phrase form, is similar to other noun phrases such as “summer time” or “time frame.” However, the fact that “anytime” is an adverb separates itself from “summertime” and “timeframe.”
Look into these articles to understand compound words functioning as nouns: Is “Summertime” One Word or Two? and Is “Timeframe” One Word or Two?
For clarity, it is essential to note that because both “summertime” and “timeframe” are different in that they cannot function as adverbs, one should not impose the grammatical rules that apply to the other.
How Do You Use “Anytime”?
“Anytime” is unique because it often functions as an adverb or a noun phrase. Therefore, it is essential to grasp the definition and when the adverb form and noun phrase form are most appropriate within a given context. This determines whether you should write “anytime” as a compound word or as two separate terms.
Both terms ultimately hold the same definition and are interchangeable when other parts of speech do not influence them. This is why both forms of the term are synonymous if they appear at the beginning of a sentence (source).
Unfortunately, words usually cannot exist separate from the influence of other parts of speech. For this reason, one must be careful not to equate similarity with equality regarding these terms. At the same time, this difference should be celebrated for its usefulness because the same word can have a full range of functions.
When Can You Use “Anytime”?
Because we use “anytime” to refer to a time that is not specified, you can use it in informal settings or as a polite remark to consider the other party’s time preference.
You can use the following term to communicate a sense of urgency or concern due to the lack of clarity that using “anytime” shares.
- Anytime you want to meet works for me.
- We need to study; there could be a pop quiz anytime now!
“Anytime” is also often present with “anywhere” to communicate a sense of flexibility or skill. For example, if one were to say the following, he or she would express that time and location are irrelevant in the face of one’s ability.
- I can take you in a fight anytime, anywhere.
We commonly use this phrase in writing and speech to communicate an all-encompassing disregard for circumstances.
From a grammatical standpoint, you can use “anytime” with any verbal tense, as it does not change because it is usually modifying a verb. However, due to the inherent ambiguity the term communicates, we do not often use “anytime” in the past tense except to communicate a lapse in memory.
However, we usually use it in the future tense when making plans. This also includes verbal moods.
In What Context Can You Use “Anytime”?
One of the most common circumstances where “anytime” becomes its noun phrase counterpart, “any time,” is when following a preposition.
One should see if the term follows a preposition when faced with “any time.” If there is a preposition, the term is the object of a prepositional phrase and, therefore, must be a noun phrase. When this is the case, “any” functions as an adjective modifying the noun “time.” For example:
- I’ll be studying any time I’m free over the next week.
When this is the case, you cannot use “anytime” as it only functions as an adverb. This is why the compound word and its phrasal counterpart cannot be interchangeable.
In short, both “anytime” and “any time” can take the place of an adverb, but only “any time” can function as a noun phrase (source). The surrounding context of the sentence always determines this. Examples of this are listed below:
- The baby is due at any time.
- When the baby is due anytime, it is best to be prepared.
Now, because both can function as adverbs, the writer may use “any time” when they are unsure and always be correct. Another trick that could benefit the writer would be to replace the word with the definition of the adverb and see if the sentence still makes sense. For example, within the sentence:
- I can meet with you tomorrow anytime.
One can rewrite the sentence with the definition to say:
- I can meet with you tomorrow at any time.
Because the sentence still makes logical sense, “anytime” functions as an adverb and reveals itself as a compound word.
Using “Anytime” in a Full Sentence
A helpful way of understanding “anytime” and when it can function as an adverb or a noun phrase is to look at some examples of proper and improper use.
To understand the difference between “anytime” and “any time,” take a look at the following sentence:
- I could finish that assignment at any time.
Now, this example uses “any time” correctly within the sentence. However, how does one concretely understand that this is the correct usage? This is an example where replacing the adverb “anytime” with the definition to see if the sentence still makes sense proves helpful. In this case, the above sentence would read:
- I could finish that assignment at at any time.
In the altered example, swapping “anytime” with its definition no longer makes sense due to the repeated preposition “at.” This brings the writer to the other tip provided above: acknowledging the presence of a preposition.
“At” is already marking the beginning of a prepositional phrase. According to the tip previously mentioned, when any time/anytime is immediately preceded with a preposition, then use “any time” to be the noun ending the prepositional phrase. For this reason, “any time” is the correct usage.
To attempt this same tip again:
- Incorrect: “I am free at anytime tomorrow.”
- Correct: “I am free at any time tomorrow.”
However, if one were to remove “at” from the above sentence, the usage changes due to the lack of a prepositional phrase.
- I am free anytime tomorrow.
To test the usage, replace the adverb with its definition:
- I am free at any time tomorrow.
This sentence passes the test, and therefore, “anytime” is the correct usage within the sentence.
As a concluding point, the fact remains that you can use both “any time” and “anytime” interchangeably when they begin a sentence.
- Anytime that works for you will be fine.
- Any time that works for you will be fine.
Both are instances when either usage of the term is correct.
When Not To Use “Anytime”
“Anytime” is limited in that it is not a gradable term, which indicates that it does not have a comparative or superlative form (source). Furthermore, because the term is ambiguous, it cannot compare two verbs in reference to each other like “faster” and “slower” does.
Similarly, it cannot communicate an upper or lower quality limit, as “tallest” or “shortest” accomplishes.
In fact, any attempt to limit “anytime” is an oxymoron. If you’re free anytime in the morning before 10, you are not free anytime in the morning. This is a typical construction as English often describes future plans with adverbs. In the case of the above example, you are saying you are free whenever, as long as it is before 10.
The term is supposed to be vague and, therefore, cannot make any sort of noun or verb assessment within a sentence except to communicate vagueness.
What Can You Use Instead of “Anytime”?
There are times when using synonyms may help aid in understanding the use of the original word. For example, while adverbs may not be tricky in themselves, the fact that you can differentiate “anytime” as both an adverb and a noun phrase, depending on the spelling, can add a layer of complexity that is difficult to navigate.
One synonym that provides a different outlook on “anytime” is “whenever.” This synonym is helpful when communicating that one would like to defer to the time preference of another, which highlights this term as one of indifference.
Perhaps a more surprising term you can use instead is “every time.” While this does not seem to make immediate sense, as “time” in “anytime” is singular and not plural, one may decipher how “every time” can replace “anytime” in an imperative clause (source).
- Anytime the dog tries to escape, hold tightly to his leash.
- Every time the dog tries to escape, hold tightly to his leash.
The sentence is not saying one gets to choose when to hold tight to the leash, but to hold tightly to the leash every time the dog tries to escape. Therefore, “anytime” functions as a clarifying circumstance in this instance. Instead, the adverb modifies the “holding of the leash” to mean whenever the dog attempts to run away.
Another synonym that may serve as a surprise is the phrase “at all” (source). This indicates that “anytime” can also achieve the opposite effect that “every time” does in that the phrase suggests an event will never happen, regardless of the time. For example:
- You won’t catch me eating broccoli anytime.
- You won’t catch me eating broccoli at all.
Here, we use “anytime” to communicate that the speaker will not eat broccoli at all, as in never. The intended effect is that one may pick any time of day, but the result will be the same.
In short, “anytime” contrasts a solid fact with its ambiguity. Naturally, therefore, it makes the fact of not eating broccoli even more firm and founded.
As a final point, it is critical to note that whenever the definition changes what it is communicating within the given context of the sentence, both “anytime” and “any time” hold that exact definition.
Definition never truly plays a part in which form to use because both, while different grammatically, are the same in etymology. Therefore, the meaning cannot make a difference in choice because they are the same.
Because English uses adverbs like “anytime” often to reference time, a few more examples will help your understanding. As with “anytime,” adverbs most commonly appear after the verb when communicating a reference to time (source).
“Afterward” is an adverb that references a point in time. One could say:
- I won’t clean my room up until afterward.
However, the same rules still apply. The action, cleaning up the room, is followed up by the adverb “afterward.” In this case, one doesn’t even need to know what “afterward” is in reference to for the sentence to be complete, only that afterward follows the action.
For more information on the use and function of afterward, look at the article Which Is Correct: “Afterward” or “Afterwards”?
Adverb Prepositional Phrases
“After” is an adverb when standing alone and a preposition when followed by a noun and adjacent to an adverb. “After” often works in tandem with “anytime.”
One could say:
- I wanted to eat cheesecake anytime after supper.
This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
In this case, “anytime” is the adverb with the prepositional phrase “after supper” acting adverbially to further describe when “anytime” refers to.
These synonyms and others serve to highlight the flexibility and overall usefulness of the term “anytime.” While one may be tempted to view this term as frustratingly complex, one should recognize that in its complexity, “anytime” serves a plethora of functions within language and speech.
To neglect such a word due to the fact that it changes its spelling is to limit a helpful tool that one can hold in their arsenal when writing. A firm grasp of these types of terms grows one as a writer and gives confidence in one’s command of speech.