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Casagrande: Modifying opinions about grammar obsessives

A Word, Please

May 18, 2012|By June Casagrande

Here's a little test that will tell you if you're suffering from a serious personality disorder I just made up.

Imagine you're cruising along the street looking for a place to park when you see a sign that says, "No parking at anytime." Do you 1.) look for another spot, 2.) park there anyway, or 3.) spend the next 10 years pondering the grammar of that sign?

If you chose 1, you may be sane. If you chose 2, you may be an Angeleno. But if you chose 3, you just might be a grammar obsessive.

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The good news is, you're not alone. These days, we grammar obsessives are out of the closet and finding help and friendship in online communities, like the message board on which I found the discussion about the difference between "anytime" and "any time," and how the word "at" might affect which one you should choose.

The person who saw the sign all those years ago didn't think the word "at" belonged in it. "I think it should have read 'No parking anytime,'" she wrote. Many others shared her view.

"I would agree: 'No parking at any time.' However, 'no parking anytime' is also acceptable. Anybody? (any body?)" one wrote, hoping for confirmation.

"I agree, too," another chimed in. "The 'at' changes it up. 'No parking anytime' is fine, but ... I don't think I can tell you why without a fair amount of stammering."

Being a little grammar obsessive myself, I find it fascinating that, though none of the users on that message board could explain the difference between "anytime" and "any time" or how "at" affected the sign, they all had it right.

That, in a nutshell, captures what grammar is all about. It's not a list of laws made up by some elite group. It's really just an explanation of how we talk normally — whether we understand the mechanics of our own speech or not.

To understand why the sign "No parking at anytime" was wrong and why "No parking anytime" and "No parking at any time" are both right, you need to look at the parts of speech involved.

The word "at" is a preposition. "Anytime" is an adverb. And "time" is a noun. Prepositions take objects, which are usually nouns or pronouns. They're never adverbs. So when you have "No parking at …" the one-word "anytime" can't follow. What follows must be a noun like "time," which can have an adjective like "any" modifying it.

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