Compound words and expressions such as anytime vs any time, awhile vs a while, or anyone vs any one can be confusing. Though they differ in meaning, they sound the same! Unfortunately, there’s no simple rule that will cover all such compound words, nor is there an either-is-correct safety net. Meaning is key to appropriate use.
Let’s look at everyday vs every day. The rules are pretty simple and the difference in their definitions is distinct.
After a single Google search, I came up with these errors – and there were tens and tens of them! Many of these websites represent professional teams, services, and popular media. A simple grammar mistake (or two in the case of the Olympics wall art) undermines their branding efforts and credibility. Remember to double-check if you’re in doubt!
As for the other compound words mentioned above, here are some examples to check your understanding.
awhile vs a while – Awhile is an adverb that means “for a period of time.” A while is a noun phrase that means “a period of time.” As the meanings seem so close, think whether or not you can insert the word “for.” If not, then you should use the two-word noun phrase. To be fair, even my spell-check is getting this wrong!
- I waited (for) awhile for the bus to arrive.
- We walked (for) awhile in the rain.
- It’s been a while since I’ve seen him.
- After a while, I began to feel more relaxed.
anytime vs any time – Anytime is an adverb that means “whenever” or “at any time.” Remember, you can’t use anytime with a preposition like “at.” You need the two-word any time when you’re talking about an amount of time.
- You can call anytime!
- I can drive anyplace and anytime!
- I can drive to any place at any time!
- Do you have any time on your schedule for lunch?
- There isn’t any time to spare!
anyone vs any one – Anyone refers to any person at all, but not to any particular individual. By contrast, any one refers to any single, specific person or thing.
- Is anyone up for pizza?
- Anyone can enter the drawing!
- I can’t decide on any one design!
- Did any one of the witnesses report the crime?
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