any more, anymore

Dear word sommelier: When should I use “any more,” and when should I use “anymore”?

If you’re not Canadian or American, you can pretty much avoid this issue and use any more everywhere. But in Canada and the US, we have a merged form, anymore, that has taken on one specific sense and left the others to the old two-word version.

First let’s start with the parts. They’re good old Germanic parts, not borrowed from anywhere else. They’re so old and basic that they have multiple uses. Any can be an adjective (Do you have any idea?) or a pronoun (I don’t have any), but it can also be an adverb, modifying an adjective, and that’s what it is in any more and anymore. More can be a noun (I want more) or an adjective (I want more food) or an adverb (Could you be more specific?). In any more, it can be any of them; in anymore, it’s an adverb.

There are three general areas of meaning that you can use any more in, and anymore is used for just the last one:

Quantity. I don’t want any more. I want fifty dollars, and not any more than that.

Degree. I don’t like this any more than you do. I couldn’t possibly love you any more [than I already do].

Time. I don’t want you anymore. I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore. Do you do it anymore?

You may notice that the examples all have one important thing in common: they’re all negative phrases or negative-option questions. Actually, you can use any more in a positive phrase: Any more than this and we’re in trouble. But in standard English, anymore is always in a negative phrase or a question with a negative option. Not anymore can be paraphrased as not any longer or as no more or no longer.

Note that I said standard English. There are areas where it’s not so uncommon to hear positive anymore in ordinary speech: Anymore, we hold the parties indoors. We can see that for these speakers it has moved out of its place in a whole limiting phrase and has become a synonym for these days or now: We don’t do that anymore > We don’t do that these days; These days we do this > Anymore, we do this. I am not endorsing this usage for standard written English, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see it more mainstream some decades hence. But you should know that it exists. At least for some speakers, anymore is not a one-valence word anymore.

When you are considering serving this word in a sentence, you should pay attention to the rhythm – it trips quickly, not quite as long as any longer but less staid than no more or no longer. It’s a more common and casual usage, too, and is less likely to be seen in formal documents, where you may see wording using phrases such as in previous years and until recent times and prior to the current situation and so forth. There are really many ways to describe the aspect of time, and some of them take quite a bit of time themselves. Probably the most formal – and obviously poetically referential – alternative to not anymore would be nevermore. To get a sense of the difference, imagine Poe writing, “Quoth the raven, ‘Not anymore.’”

Thanks to my colleagues in the Editors’ Association who brought up this issue and helped me clarify my thinking on it.

2 responses to “any more, anymore

  1. Great explanation. Thank you.

  2. Pingback: This Week’s Language Blog Roundup: The Great Gatsby, really old words, Dothraki | Wordnik

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