There aren't many issues in grammar or usage that scare me much anymore. After years of writing about language, I've learned that the things I don't know — and there are still many — I'm probably not expected to know.
Over the years, that panicky feeling that I'm going to be exposed as a fraud the minute someone asks a question I can't answer has faded away almost completely.
But one issue that can still set my pulse racing is the difference between “anymore” and “any more.” I'm not sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I've been getting around to researching it for more than 15 years now. And because I've been “gonna look it up soon” for so long, it makes sense I'd feel a little behind on the subject.
That ends now. I've just put an end to my marathon procrastination run by reading up on the subject. What I learned is that my instincts — everyone's instincts, in fact — are pretty good.
For example, would you pause at the sight of the one-word “anymore” in “I don't go dancing anymore”? Not likely. And what if you saw “I don't go dancing any more,” with “any more” as two words? Would that jump out at you as an error? Probably not, even if, when you stopped to think about it, you decided that the one-word version looks better.
But what if you came across this exchange: Mom: “There's more lasagna if you're still hungry.” Child: “I don't want anymore.”
Does that strike you as odd? It should, because that's the only one of our examples that is actually an error. It should be “I don't want any more.”
Here's why: In “I don't want any more,” the term “any more” is functioning as a noun phrase. That is, “more” is a noun and “any” is an adjective modifying it. It's the object of the verb “want,” and objects of verbs are usually nouns: Do you want more? Can I have more? In both these cases, “more” is the object of the verb, so in these sentences it's a noun. And putting “any” in front of it doesn't change that.
But the one-word “anymore” is not a noun. It's an adverb.
For most of us, school didn't give a complete picture of adverbs. As I've written before in this space, adverbs are not just those words that end in “ly” and modify verbs. They're also any word that answers the question when, where, or in what manner, or that modifies a whole thought or sentence, like “therefore” in “Therefore, Joe is a great guy.”
But the term adverb refers to a word class — a club, if you will — of words that function adverbially so regularly that they're known for doing the job.
But other parts of speech can do the same job. That is, they can function adverbially. Chief among them are nouns and noun phrases. In “I'll see you Tuesday,” the word Tuesday, which most dictionaries categorize as a noun, is answering the question “when?” So it's functioning adverbially.
The noun phrase “any more” can function adverbially, doing the same job as its adverb cousin “anymore.” But the adverb can't work as a noun: It can't be the object of a verb like “want” or “have” or “know.” That's why you can use “anymore” or “any more” as an adverb.
So both “I don't go dancing anymore” and “I don't go dancing any more” are correct.
But in “I don't want any more,” you need a noun to be the object of “want.” So you use the two-word form made up of the noun “more” and the adjective “any.”
I'm glad I don't have to wonder about this one anymore.
is the author of “It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences.” She can be reached at