An everyday usage anymore

Posted by on November 28, 2012

In recent weeks Liz has been sharing language tips on distinguishing between every one and everyone, and every day and everyday. These are handy refreshers if you’re unsure of the distinctions. Such pairs abound in English and are a common source of confusion even for native speakers.

Every day and everyday may cause trouble, but the distinction, once learned, is straightforward. Other pairs are less clear-cut. Take any more and anymore. The two-word phrase is required for the sense “any further” or “any additional”: Are there any more biscuits? But when the sense is “any longer”, usage is mixed.

While proofreading a novel once, I found that Microsoft Word’s grammar-checking software* kept advising me to change any more to anymore in contexts such as: She could not take the stress any more. Anymore is more common in this context, but both forms are acceptable and the writer clearly preferred the one-word version. Robert Burchfield, in his revised edition of Fowler, comments:

Logically it would seem sensible to reserve the separated form for contexts in which the sense is “even the smallest amount” (the boy had eaten two of the apples and refused to eat any more of them) and the one-word form for the sense “any longer”. But the language does not work as neatly as that. By and large any more is used in all areas when the sense required is “even the smallest amount”. When the required sense is “any longer” there are sharp divisions.

Macmillan’s page on anymore notes that it is usually used in negatives (We don’t use the car anymore) or questions (Do you knit anymore?). It also appears in conditional contexts (If you fight anymore, I’ll stop the game). And sometimes the negative is not explicit but implied: It’s too busy to visit anymore. So for most people the word is what linguists call a negative polarity item.

But there is a variant construction, generally called positive anymore, that means “nowadays” or “from now on”: I cycle to work anymore. Macmillan Dictionary will be digital-only anymore. This usage dates to the 1850s at least, and seems to be spreading. The American Heritage Dictionary says the earliest recorded examples are from Northern Ireland, but it’s especially associated with south midland and midwestern US states, and western states with settlers from those areas.

The Dictionary of American Regional English says positive anymore is now used throughout the US by speakers of all educational levels, and that it’s neither substandard nor indicative of social standing. Nonetheless, it attracts criticism – usually, I suppose, from people to whom it’s unfamiliar, or who instinctively find it “improper”. If you have no such objections to it, maybe you’ll adopt it anymore.

* Speaking of which, Orin had a fascinating post last week on the difficulties prepositions pose for computers.

Comments (8)
  • Great post, Stan! I hesitate myself often with negative “anymore” and stop to ponder whether I want the solid or open spelling. Positive anymore, on the other hand, has an informal ring but is well-established among all US speakers. The collocation “Seems like anymore” gets nearly 2 million Google hits. Seems like anymore anyone can use anymore this way.

    Posted by Orin Hargraves on 28th November, 2012
  • If Word and iPad etc insist on ‘anymore’ where I would write separate words, then it has moreorless become standard, Ithink, moresthepity.

    Posted by Edward Vanderpump on 28th November, 2012
  • Orin: It’s no wonder these phrases’ spelling proves awkward even to native speakers, given their mixed and changing forms in different contexts. Positive anymore occurs in dialects around me, but I associate “Seems like anymore” with AmE especially.

    Edward: It would appear so, though I happily ignore MS Word’s blue squiggles when they contradict my own grammatical preferences or those of the prose I’m editing.

    Posted by Stan on 28th November, 2012
  • Stan, You say that “everyday and every day may cause trouble, but the distinction, once learned, is straightforward”. This strongly suggests that there is a right and a wrong, and I would never dream of mixing them up, myself. But I think the distinction is being lost, and ‘everyday’ is becoming commonplace for both meanings. The line from a sofa advert “dfs: making everyday more comfortable”, plays on the distinction – at least I hope it does. But there are hundreds of corpus lines showing that the difference is disappearing, e.g. “Online shopping is available all day, everyday”. I took a sample of 500 occurrences of ‘everyday’ in ukWaC, and found that about 60 of these are used ‘wrongly’ – “You learn something everyday”; “I drive past there everyday” etc. – that’s 12%. The ukWaC corpus is some years old and I’d guess that the trend has been speeding up since, such that the two-word version ‘every day’ will eventually vanish. The question for an online dictionary, which CAN update a word whenever it likes, is when to give up on a distinction and go with the flow. This time has not yet come, of course for the ‘everyday’/’every day’ distinction, which is still alive and kicking. But for how long?

    Posted by gill francis on 29th November, 2012
  • This is a new usage to me. Perhaps it’s spreading west in the US, but it doesn’t seem to have come east yet!

    Posted by Erin Brenner on 29th November, 2012
  • Gill, that’s surprising and very interesting. I wouldn’t have guessed the figure is so high, and it does seem to suggest the distinction’s days are numbered for many speakers. Whether the advertising slogan “dfs: making everyday more comfortable” is a pun or not, it will probably contribute a little to the trend!

    Erin, thanks for reporting from east US. DARE says the usage is widespread, but I guess it’s not common in some areas.

    Posted by Stan on 29th November, 2012
  • I think it’s important to separate the spelling question (any more vs. anymore) clearly from the polarity question (negative vs. positive any more/anymore), though both originated in the U.S. For myself, although a Yank of the Yanks, I use neither, probably because I come from a linguistically conservative part of the country, the Northeast. (No, that does not make me half a Brit; just ask a real Brit.)

    For me, the spelling anymore falsely suggests an indefinite pronoun pronounced with a stress on the first syllable, as in anything, anyone, anywhere etc., whereas anymore is in fact still stressed as two words even when written as one word, and is obviously an adverb rather than a pronoun. As for positive anymore, I can no more say it than I can say “Anybody doesn’t go there” rather than “Nobody goes there”, a different kind of polarity violation.

    So when Orin says positive anymore is well established among all Americans, he is in error. I would guess that the anymore spelling will become the standard U.S. spelling eschewed by the rest of the Anglosphere when the old farts like me have died off, whereas the positive use will probably not take over even the whole U.S., though it may well spread outside it: it is still too alien to those of us who don’t use it.

    Posted by John Cowan on 1st January, 2013
  • John: Thanks, as always, for your insights. I see what you mean about the pronunciation of anymore, though the spelling doesn’t suggest that stress to me, for whatever reason. I agree that even if positive anymore continues to spread, it will be resisted by some speakers as too strange and counterintuitive.

    Posted by Stan on 2nd January, 2013
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