Jeremy Butterfield Editorial

Making words work for you


Scot-free or scotch-free? Or Scott Free? Nothing to do with slavery or Scotland

(5-minute read)

Here’s a wheels-within-wheels eggcorn, or even an eggcorns-within-eggcorns eggcorn.

The standard form of the phrase is ‘to get off scot-free’:

Stone believes the two rig supervisors should be prosecuted, but he also thinks BP’s senior leaders have got away scot-free.

And here’s an example with the eggcorned version:

Every school child, and 99.999999999999% of the rest of us know the name of the ONLY country to commit nuclear genocide on innocent civilians and get away scotch-free.

And then there’s POTUS’s example:

He makes up stories to get a GREAT & ALREADY reduced deal for himself, and get….

…his wife and father-in-law (who has the money?) off Scott Free. He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence.

@realDonaldTrump 3:24 and 3:29 p.m., 3 December 2018

Q: Is it scot free, scotfree or scot-free?
Dictionaries hyphenate it (Oxford Online, Collins, Cambridge, Merriam-Webster).

At the end of this post there are figures showing the relative frequency of this eggcorn. Meanwhile, let’s delve into scot-free’s backstory.

Q: Scot-free has got something to do with Scotland, Scots, Scottish, hasn’t it?
Nope, absolutely nothing, zilch, diddly squat, nada. It has nothing to do with the nationality, the language or the drink.

Q: It derives from the famous U.S. legal case involving the black American slave Dred Scott, doesn’t it?

No, it doesn’t. That belief is a classic example of the stories that people invent about the origins of words and phrases that then become established “fact”. There are lots of such invented stories or urban myths about language, and they are technically called “folk etymology”.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1857 that no black man, free or slave, could be a U.S. citizen.

Given the historic significance of this ruling, handed down before the Civil War, it is hardly surprising that its ripples were reflected in folklore and folk etymology.

Q: Oh, really!?! So, what is that scot bit, then?
It’s an archaic word for a form of tax. So being ‘scot-free’ meant not having to pay scot, that tax, and then, more generally, not having to pay anything for whatever it might be.

(More specifically, the OED defines scot as ‘A tax or tribute paid by a feudal tenant to his or her lord or ruler in proportion to ability to pay’.)

Q: OK. But what has that got to do with the modern meaning of ‘without punishment or harm’?
As so often happens, people have extended the literal meaning to something more metaphorical and less specific (known by language geeks like me as ‘semantic broadening’).

As just mentioned, scot was a tax, and scot-free also once meant not liable for tax, and then later, more generally, ‘not liable to pay anything’. In parallel, it came to mean ‘escaping punishment, harm, or injury’. Here’s the earliest example in the OED entry (3rd edn., June 2011) of that extended meaning.

Is there eny grett differynge Bitwene theft and tythe gaderynge..? Uery litell,..Savynge that theves are corrected, And tythe gaderers go scott fre.

1528   Rede me & be nott Wrothe sig. H1 (a tract by reformers condemning the abuses of the Catholic Church)
[Is there any great difference between theft and tithe gathering? Very little,..except that thieves are punished, and tithe gatherers go scot-free.]

And here’s a much later example with the financial meaning still very much alive and kicking.

It was therefore thought very unjust by the Legislature, that all others be oblig’d to pay, and those Towns go Scot-free.

1734,   London Daily Post, 27 Nov.

Q: Is scotch-free a recent eggcorn?
Well, from the eggcorn database, which records it from as recently as 2007, you might be forgiven for supposing so.

However, the Corpus of Historical American has an example from 1960; and while the earliest OED citation is the 1528 one shown above, the second citation has scotchfree, suggesting that the association with Scotland was made very early on. In other words, the eggcorn goes back at least to the mid-16th century. Perhaps it should be spelled eggkorne in honour.

Daniell scaped scotchfree by Gods prouidence.

1567, J. Maplet Greene Forest f. 93

(Note that scaped for escaped, as in scapegoat.)

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Q: Is it true that scot-free was once shot-free?
Correct. That’s how Shakespeare put it into Falstaff’s mouth in Henry IV, Pt. 1 v. iii. 30.

Q: Now I’m totally confuseddotcom. What’s the link between scot-free and shot-free, then?
Well, here’s the next wheel or twist. That scot itself is probably a variant of shot, with the same meaning, influenced by Scandinavian skot. However, that shot doesn’t appear in the OED’s records in its own right until 1475:

  On cast down her schott and went her wey. Gossip, quod Elenore, what dyd she paye? Not but a peny.

  c1475   Songs & Carols (Percy Soc.) 94

Here shot means ‘The charge, reckoning, amount due or to be paid, esp. at a tavern or for entertainment; a or one’s share in such payment. Now only colloq. to stand shot’ (according to the unrevised OED entry).

Scott used it with that meaning:

Are you to stand shot to all this good liquor?

1821, Scott, Kenilworth II. vii. 184

Q: Does anyone still use scot-free in its original meaning?
You mean, ‘not having to pay (tax)’? The OED marks it as ‘rare’, and presents as its most recent citation one from 1921:

The common laborer does not know that that act [on taxation] was passed. He is scot free at 40 cents an hour.

Internal-revenue Hearings before Comm. on Finance (U.S. Senate, 67th Congr., 1st Sess.) 384

But a 1992 citation from Ngrams seems also to refer to this meaning:

Everything will be scotch free, as they say, and McFillen assures me there will be a good fiddle in the expenses if I work my loaf.

Celebrated Letters, John B. Keane.

Q: But to qualify as an eggcorn, doesn’t there have to be a plausible explanation meaningwise of why people use the phrase in the eggcorned version?
That’s right. And the eggcorn database records an ingenious (post)-rationalization of the modern eggcorn, which I’ll quote in full here:

I was watching Big Brother 8 when a ditzy girl said she got off “scotch free.” Well if you think of the powers of the product Scotchguard that protects fabrics from staining thus allowing crap to easily flow off and not stick. Same idea as the current usage of the phrase getting off “scot free,” no?

That’s a similar image to the one that leads to Teflon man, for someone to whom no ‘dirt’ ever sticks.

Q: How common is the eggcorn?
Not very, actually.

Trawling Ngrams, doesn’t help much, because, for example, what look like nineteenth-century references turn out to be references to the Scotch Free Church, generally known as the Scottish Free Church (the use of ‘Scotch’ reflecting an earlier use). The earliest genuine one I’ve tracked down on Ngrams is from a 1992 novel: “The two young men, Dindial and Mascal, had gotten away scotch free.” (But see the earlier discussion.)

The figures below are from the November 2017 release of the Oxford English Corpus, the Corpus of Web-based English and the Corpus of Contemporary American English. As can be seen at a glance, the eggcorn is very much a minority tendency.

Totals 3,012/39 1,130/12 140/0 4,182/51
Form Corpus Combined:


scot-free 1,974 487 113 2,574
scot free 999 525 24 1,548
scotfree 39 18 3 60
scotch-free 5 2 0 7
scotch free 17 10 0 27
scotchfree 17 0 0 17










Mean while or meanwhile? In the mean while or in the meanwhile? One word or two?

Short answer: one word. To write two words will nowadays be considered a mistake. But it wasn’t always so…


(I think that should be “Meanwhile, in Scotland”, don’t you?)

Rules iz rules…but rules can change.

To write several analogous pairs (a while, any more, etc.) as one word or two is a matter of convention, and conventions can, and do, change over time.1

I was forcefully reminded of this while reading Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796), a Gothic classic that keeps making me visualize a sort of Ken Russell – if not Hammer horror – film before its time, or “avant la lettre”, if I wish to be flowery, which I often do.

The narrator falls into the hands of murderous outlaws who want to drug him – and a baroness who has also fallen into their clutches – by giving them a spiked drink (or a sleeping draught, in more trad language).

In the mean while our host [Baptiste, a bandit] had drawn the cork, and, filling two of the goblets, offered them to the lady and myself. She at first made some objections, but the instances of Baptiste were so urgent, that she was obliged to comply. Fearing to excite suspicion, I hesitated not to take the goblet presented to me. By its smell and colour, I guessed it to be champagne; but some grains of powder floating upon the top convinced me that it was not unadulterated.”

(Fret not: the hero does manage to avoid drinking the potion, and then feigns sleep. Tales of his derring-do fill at least another hundred pages.)

Note that “In the mean while” at the start of the extract.

Some history…

As the revised (2001) OED entry notes: “The one-word form (first found in the 16th cent.) has become steadily more frequent since the early 19th cent., and has been the standard form since the end of the 19th cent.”

Modern meanwhile has simply obliterated the space that manifests its etymology. It is, quite simply, a combination of “mean” the adjective and “while” the noun. That adjectival meaning is defined by the OED as “Intermediate in time; coming or occurring between two points of time or two events” and gave rise to the now obsolete adverbs  the mean season and mean space, both meaning, um…, “meanwhile.”

Mean[ ]while itself, is first recorded as a noun from some time before 1375:

Boþe partiȝes…made hem alle merie in þe mene while.
(Both parties…all made merry in the meanwhile.)

William of Palerne.

and as an adverb in the first English-Latin dictionary, the Promptorium Parvulorum (“Storehouse for Children” or “Little Egbert’s Crib Sheet”) of 1440:

Mene whyle, interim.

Annoyingly, the OED doesn’t present a single-word example from the sixteenth century: its first “solid” example is:

Upon this subject I will in my next Number make an appeal… In the meanwhile let me pride myself a little on the circumstance [etc.].

Cobbett’s Weekly Polit. Reg. 33 101, 1818.

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In the Bard’s work too…

Shakespeare used the word(s), e.g.

Let the lawes of Rome determine all,
Meane while am I possest of that is mine.

Titus Andronicus i. i. 405, 1594.

but much more often he used (in the) meantime, as when Portia says:

For never shall you lie by Portia’s side
With an unquiet soul. You shall have gold
To pay the petty debt twenty times over:
When it is paid, bring your true friend along.
My maid Nerissa and myself meantime
Will live as maids and widows. Come, away!
For you shall hence upon your wedding-day:

Merchant of Venice, iii. ii. 318 ff., 1600.

Modern usage follows Shakespeare. In the GloWbE corpus (Global Web-based English), in the meantime is 20 times more frequent than in the meanwhile.


Two poetic “meanwhiles”

And, as I was writing this, the last words of Auden’s Friday’s Child, in memory of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, floated into my head:

Meanwhile, a silence on the cross,
As dead as we shall ever be,
Speaks of some total gain or loss,
And you and I are free

To guess from the insulted face
Just what Appearances He saves
By suffering in a public place
A death reserved for slaves.

And then a “virtual” colleague made this comment, which I had to add:

“One of my favourite lines from the great Flann O’Brien, where the narrator in The Third Policeman describes his mother: ‘She was always making tea to pass the time, and singing snatches of old songs to pass the meantime.'”

1Witness the kerfuffle* when, in 2013, Associated Press (AP) changed its ruling about “under way” being two words in most contexts to “underway” in all contexts. Editors can be an OCDish lot – after all, part of their job consists in weeding out and correcting things that most people don’t even notice – and one such editor tweeted “I can’t be the only one who is outraged that AP is changing its style from ‘under way’ to ‘underway,’ am I?”

Copy-editing, it could be argued, is a profession whose motto invalidates the old Latin motto de minimis non est curandum (“Don’t sweat the small stuff” or, literally, “It is not to be worried about trivia”).

Whether that be true or not, conventions iz conventions, and the fact that most people abide by them makes them worth sticking to.

* An originally Scottish word, spelt curfuffle.


Whereas or where as? One word or two? Commonly confused words (27-28)



(27 & 28 of 30 commonly confused words)

Where as???

A while ago, when reading The Times, I was struck by this sentence: “He was apolitical. He [sc. Haider al-Abadi, Iraqi PM] never mentioned Iraq where as some students were vociferous.” Aug 16, 2014.

I blogged about it at the time. Since then, that page has become one of the most visited, so I thought I’d update it.

Is it correct to write whereas as two words nowadays?

Short (and long) answer: no.

It had never occurred to me that whereas might be written as two words.

Of course, it could easily be, since it is a simple combination of where and as.

Several “words” are sometimes written as one unit and sometimes as two, for example under way and underway, any more and anymore, and so forth. Sometimes whether you write them one way or the other is simply a matter of house style or regional or personal preference; at other times, the difference can be grammatical, e.g. anymore.

But whereas is not one of those: no current dictionary that I know of accepts the two-word spelling.


A quick check in the Oxford English Corpus (OEC) shows that whereas whereas as a single word appears over 100,000 times, as two words, it’s in the hundreds.

It is impossible to give an exact figure for it as two words, because searching for the string where as also finds sentences such as “Wolfowitz joined the bank in 2005 after working at the Pentagon, where as deputy defense secretary he was…

What is clear, however, is that where as is highly unusual, i.e. less than one per cent of cases. The OEC data also suggests that it occurs often in news and blog sources (come back subs, all is forgiven!). Just what do they teach those journalists these days?

Was it ever two words?

Historically, it was originally two words. The earliest OED example is from The Paston Letters (1426-7), in the meaning, now largely confined to legal writing, “taking into consideration the fact that”:

Where as þe seyd William Paston, by assignement and commaundement of þe seyd Duk of Norffolk…was þe styward of þe seyd Duc of Norffolk.

(As you will no doubt have worked out, the þ symbol stands for the ‘th’ sound. It was used in Old English, is still used in Icelandic, and is called a thorn since it begins that word.)

In its principal modern meaning (“in contrast”), it first appears in Coverdale’s Bible (1535), also as two words:

There are layed vp for vs dwellynges of health & fredome, where as we haue lyued euell.

(From Book 2 of Esdras, not included in the AV.)

The first OED citation for it as one word is in Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 1 (written before 1616).

I deriued am From Lionel Duke of Clarence…; whereas hee, From Iohn of Gaunt doth bring his Pedigree.

So, while there are historical precedents for the two-word spelling, whereas is one of those words that current spelling convention decrees should not be sundered.


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We’ve seen whereas above used to contrast clauses …



And — as in the Paston Letter quotation earlier — it is often used, especially in US laws, to introduce a clause, or usually several clauses, setting out the reasons for something.


The town of Merrill, Oregon, institutes a Carl Barks day, to honour a Donald Duck cartoonist.

Does it have other meanings?


1. Historically, it was used to mean simply “where”, but that use died out long ago, except as a poetic archaism, as illustrated in the second quotation below from the Arts & Crafts designer and writer William Morris:

That…oure heartes maye surely there bee fixed, where as true ioyes are to be founde.

Bk. Common Prayer (STC 16267) Celebr. Holye Communion f. lxiiiiv, 1549.

And quickly too he gat | Unto the place whereas the Lady sat.

W. Morris, Earthly Paradise ii. 655, 1868.

J. W. Waterhouse's 1888 "The Lady of Shalott", Tate Britain.

J. W. Waterhouse’s 1888 “The Lady of Shalott”, Tate Britain.

2. Whereas is also a noun.

It can mean “A statement introduced by ‘whereas’; the preamble of a formal document.”

While the contrary remains unproved, such a Whereas must be a most inadequate ground for the present Bill.

S. T. Coleridge, Plot Discovered 23, 1795.

The rule seems to be that if a candidate can recite half a dozen policy positions by rote and name some foreign nations and leaders, one shouldn’t point out that he sure seems a few whereases shy of an executive order., 2000.

As a further historical footnote, it is interesting that the legalistic, ritual use of whereas as a preamble to legal documents led to its being used as a noun, defined as follows in the Urban Dictionary of its day, Grose’s 1796 Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: 

To follow a whereas; to become a bankrupt…: the notice given in the Gazette that a commission of bankruptcy is issued out against any trader, always beginning with the word whereas.


Tom Rakewell, from Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress, narrowly escapes arrest for debt while on his way to Queen Caroline’s birthday party.

1 Comment

“A while” or “awhile”; “for a while” or “for awhile”?

“See you later, alligator” – “In awhile, crocodile”

This catchphrase of the 1950s greatly amused my brother and me when very young. awhile_bill_haleySaying goodbye, you would gigglingly go “See you later, alligator” and the other person would reply “In awhile, crocodile.”

Or should that be “In a while”?

If you google “In awhile, crocodile”, Google wags its finger at you and asks if you mean “in a while”.

That question goes straight to the crux. Is it “in a while” or “in awhile” (not to mention “after a while/awhile” “once in a while/awhile”, etc., etc.)

The spelling variation happens because there are two distinct “words”: the noun while, meaning “a period of time” and the adverb awhile, meaning “for a short time”.

The noun we use now descends from the Old English noun hwíl, first recorded in King Alfred’s translation of Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy, before 888, and is related to the modern German die Weile, meaning “while”.

The adverb awhile was, ironically, not written as two words until the thirteenth century and is a combination of the noun to give áne hwíle “(for) a while”. It is first recorded in Beowulf.


  • Following a preposition (e.g. after awhile), awhile is accepted in some US sources, but not in British ones, and is more common in North American English, though not unknown in British. (2.2, 3.2, 4.1-2)
  • Possible overgeneralization of the statement that “awhile is an adverb” means it is used in cases where most people would write “a while”. (2.3)
  • In many contexts there are two possible grammatical interpretations. (2.1, 4.3)
  • The verb used with the word/phrase can heavily influence the spelling as one word or two.


Is there a rule?

Various online grammar sites propose rules that can be summarized as follows:

1.1 Awhile is an adverb. Being an adverb, it modifies a verb. It means “for a short time”. Therefore, if you can replace it with the phrase “for a short time”, you are using it correctly:

We lingered awhile by the pool –> We lingered by the pool for a short time.

(The unspoken corollary of this is that after any verb awhile should be used, which is not true, as explained at 2.1 below).

1.2 If you cannot replace awhile with “for a short time”, you should write the two words separately. Therefore, “I’ll be with you in a while” is correct because otherwise you would have “in for a short time”, i.e. with two incompatible prepositions.

1.3A while” should be written as two words when it is is a noun phrase. Online examples given are a) “We have a while left to wait” (have requires a direct object, which ought to make it clear that while functions as a noun here), and b) “I saw her a while ago”. awhile_new-yorker-cartoon

1.4 As an adverb, awhile cannot follow a preposition, therefore “in awhile” is incorrect.

Such rules attempt to give simple, straightforward explanations. However, they can be somewhat circular. Write it as two words if it’s a noun – but how do you recognize it as a noun in the first place? Apart from the circularity, they do not seem to allow for:

2.1 It is not only words classed as adverbs that fulfil adverbial functions. You can also use noun phrases as adjuncts (of time duration), in which case certain prepositions are optional, e.g. l stayed there for a week/month/year, etc. Accordingly, it would be quite reasonable to interpret the sentence in 1.1 above as of this kind, i.e. “We lingered for  a while by the pool”.

(The Oxford Online Dictionary recognizes this in its category 1.1 of while, with examples such as “Can I keep it a while?”)

2.2 Second, a sizeable minority of English speakers do in fact write “for/in/after/ etc. awhile”.

This use is recognized, for example, in the Merriam-Webster online usage note: “Although considered a solecism by many commentators, awhile, like several other adverbs of time and place, is often used as the object of a preposition <for awhile there is a silence — Lord Dunsany>.”

2.3 Third, adhering blindly to, or misinterpreting, the rule “if it modifies a verb”, often leads to uses like this, which many people would regard as wrong: awhile_calmdown

Conversely, “a while” as two words is often used following verbs, where the rule at 1.1 above states that it should be one word.

If you happen to walk down your local high street today, pause a Proustian moment by the open doorway of Greggs and linger a while.

Daily Telegraph, 2012

(For the benefit of non-UK readers, Greggs is a chain of food outlets selling economically priced sandwiches, cakes, etc. Hence the irony of the quotation.)

2.4 Certain adverbs can and do follow prepositions, e.g. since yesterday, for once.

Holy mackerel! So what do I write when, please!

3.1 You could test that you are dealing with a noun phrase. Try substituting another “duration” noun phrase in your sentence. In the example in the image above: “It just took me | some time / a few minutes / several hours / etc. to get loose and calm down”.

Using that substitution works for the sentences at 1.2 and 1.3: “I’ll be with you in| a while / a few minutes / seconds / etc. ”

We have| a while / an hour / several hours / etc. left to wait

I saw her| a while / an hour / a day or two / etc. ago

3.2 When it comes to prepositions, usage varies. To write “in awhile, for awhile, once in awhile” etc. is more frequent in American English than in British English. (See 4 for a few figures.)

The Merriam-Webster Concise Dictionary of English Usage gives it its blessing, and quotes several examples, e.g. …he had dosed it for awhile with an elm compress soaked in whiskey. Garrison Keillor, WLT: A Radio Romance, 1991.

In contrast, the OED (admittedly, the unrevised entry of 1885) categorically proclaims:  “Improperly written together, when there is no unification of sense, and while is purely a n.”

You have been warned!

Its first quotation, from Caxton, in 1489, shows, however, that said “impropriety” has been around a very long time.

It was doon but awhyle agoon.

tr. C. de Pisan Bk. Fayttes of Armes i. xxiii. 72


Do usage and style guides help?

Neither the Economist, nor the Telegraph, nor the Guardian style guide mentions the issue.

The Chicago Manual of Style (16th edn) says, echoing online advice, but disagreeing with Merriam-Webster:

awhile; a while. The one-word version is adverbial {let’s stop here awhile}. The two-word version is a noun phrase that follows the preposition for or in {she worked for a while before beginning graduate studies}.”

The M-W Concise Dictionary of English Usage allows for preposition + awhile, quoting examples with “for/after/once in awhile” and justifying this by referring to a comment in Quirk et al., 1985 that “some adverbs of time and place do occur after prepositions” (see 5).

The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, under the entry awhile, says that “More of its uses are sanctioned in the US” and concludes by saying that “Separating awhile into a while may seem to make too much of what is – after all – a vague time period.”

I suspect many editors would disagree.


For most people, the distinction probably doesn’t matter a tinker’s cuss. In contrast, many editors and writers will no doubt have firm views on the matter.

Although a while as two words far outnumbers awhile in the Oxford English Corpus, a minority use it in contexts where most people prefer the two-word form.

There are some contexts in which it seems impossible to come down firmly in favour of one spelling over the other (see 4.3)


4 A few facts and figures

From the Oxford English Corpus (March 2013 release)

4.1 As simple strings

awhile = 11,520 (10.4% of total occurrences)
a while = 98, 770 (89.6%)

Of those 11,520 awhile examples, 7,745 (67.2%) are North American (US, Canada) and 801 (7%) are British English.

Conversely, of the a while examples, 44,060 (44.6%) are North American, and 22,998 (23.3%) are British.

Taking all examples of both spellings, there is a marked difference: the North American percentage ratio of a while:awhile is 85:15% while the British is 96.6:3.4%

4.2 After certain prepositions
The combinations for/in/after a while/awhile broadly reflect the overall percentages, with the single-word spelling hovering round the ten per cent mark.

Turning to specific collocations, of the 4,874 examples of “for awhile”, 3,317 (68%) are North American and 270 (5.5%) British English. With “for a while”, this changes to 20,173 (42%) and 12,096 (25%).

The percentage ratios are therefore 85.9:14.1% for N. Amer. English and 99.4:0.6% for British English, i.e. even more marked for British English than for the overall ratio of the two forms.


4.3 In my mental lexicon at least, awhile still has a sub-poetic or quaint ring, collocating with verbs such as tarry, linger, and the like, or in rare set phrases such as not yet awhile.

However, in the Oxford English Corpus it collocates – though in fairly small numbers – with a range of verbs related to speech (chat, talk), relaxed states (rest, chill, sleep) and mental activity (muse, meditate). Its two most common verb collocates are wait and take.

For most of these verbs, it looks to me like a moot (British English meaning, i.e. debatable) point whether to interpret the combination as verb + adverb or verb + noun phrase used adverbially: people clearly do both.

Browsers take awhile to catch up to state-of-the-art from scratch.

The Mac Observer, 2012.

In this case, awhile as an adverb of duration could be compared with forever (though that’s the only one I can think of).

The results are impressive. The problem is that it can take a while to process the shot.

The Mac Observer, 2011.

In this case, a while could be replaced by another noun phrase, such as some time, quite some time, a few minutes, etc. awhile_Obamacare

I can see no meaning difference between the two. Perhaps a wiser head than mine can. However, as 4.4 illustrates, the choice of verb does seem to have a marked effect on spelling.

4.4 The collocates of a while and awhile for all parts of speech are very similar, and similar in relative frequency, in a span of two preceding and one following word. When it comes to verbs, there are many overlaps but also some interesting differences.

4.4.1 The most frequent verb lemma with both is TAKE. It accounts for 47% of all verb collocations with awhile, whereas with a while the figure is 62%, which might suggest that TAKE exerts a strong influence on the two-word spelling, in line with while being interpreted here as its noun object. (See examples at 4.3.)

With SPEND, a while has 292 (96.4%) examples, awhile a mere 11, illustrating an even stronger influence than for take.

This is on page 99, at which point he’s spent a while seeking to disprove that god exists (no capital g for Him).

Daily Telegraph, 2013

This was after she spent awhile attacking me, of course.

Canadian English blog, 2004.

4.4.2 With the lemma WAIT, the percentage ratio of a while:awhile is 85.2:14:8%, i.e. a higher percentage of awhile than in the overall figures at 4.1.

We had planned on doing another mile or so by the River Hull but here the grasses on the floodbank were rank and it was like walking in knee-high snow. One can’t whinge, and this route can wait a while until the powerful herd of 25 creamy cattle have eaten their way through.

The Press (York, UK), 2005

But I suspect that Hillary Clinton will wait awhile until more of these precincts have reported.

CNN transcripts, 2008.

4.4.3 In contrast, with the lemma STAY, the ratio of a while:awhile is 56.4:43.6%, suggesting that STAY exerts a strong attraction for the single-word form.

4.4.4 Finally, with REST the split comes even closer to being 50:50, with 63 (52.5%) examples for a while and 57 (47.5%) for awhile, suggesting a very strong influence by the verb on the single-word form.

There is always something happening in a Glazunov symphony, even if you do feel that he could do with resting a while and taking stock.

Scotland on Sunday, 2004

Time to rest awhile before regaining strength ready for next week.

Boris Johnson, blog, 2005


4.5 In all the following examples, taken from, it seems to me that either spelling could be used, depending on where you are, and personal preference. However, the spellings shown reflect the tendencies previously described.

But if they give him The Tonight Show back, maybe it ends up all right after a while

Starlings foray across the land and rest awhile on the sunlit twigs of ash.

After a while, Rawls came in to let another set of children have a chance. 

Crazy Horse watched this awhile and then rode down the river where some men were going out to repair the talking wires. 

We’ve been talking for a while when Baroness Campbell of Surbiton suddenly cuts to the chase, and leaves me speechless.

Beyond the bar, soft white leather booths beckon you to sit, take off your coat and stay awhile

5 Quirk et al., 1985, 5.64, p. 282.

“A number of adverbs signifying time and place function as complement of a preposition.”

Because for and after often co-occur with a while, relevant examples taken from Quirk et al. are after| then/today/yesterday/now, and for| today/always/ever/once.

And here are Bill Haley and his Comets with the original song.


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Anymore or any more? Does anybody write anymore any more any more?

While Annie Lennox was keening  ‘Don’t ask me why’ and lamenting lost or unachievable love, the question in this word geek’s mind (and perhaps in a few others’) was: is that  ‘anymore’ or ‘any more’?

I don’t love you any|more
I don’t think I ever did.
And if you ever had
Any kind of love for me
You kept it all so well hid

One of my most often consulted blogs is about whereas as one word or two, so I thought it would be interesting to look at another case of split personality: any more and anymore.

What’s the problem?

  1. When you want to convey the meaning ‘not … any longer’, e.g. ‘I don’t love you any more’, should you write any more or anymore?
  2. In which uses of any more is it better to write the two words separately?

Quick answers

  1. Whether you write ‘I don’t love you anymore’ or ‘any more’ largely depends on geography. The dataset (details later on) from the Oxford English Corpus that I used suggests that in British English there is a 2:1 preference for ‘any more’. In North American (i.e. US and Canadian) English, the one-word form ‘anymore’ is used in over 80 per cent of cases.

TIP: if you can replace ‘any|more’ with ‘any longer’, ‘again’ or some other paraphrase with a similar meaning, then it is safe to write it as one word if that is your preference. Also, look for the preceding verb, generally negated or in a question, that any|more relates to.

  1. Any more should be written as separate words when you are using the phrase in one of six possible ways in comparative clauses – explained in detail below – where its grammatical function and meaning are different from those in ‘I don’t love you anymore’.

TIP: if the word than follows shortly after any more, it’s a fair bet that you should write the words separately, e.g.

…the book is very well written and does not assume any more than a basic knowledge of biology

The data suggests that, instinctively, most people separate the two words in such contexts, but occasionally they put them together.

There’s a separate, exclusively American meaning of anymore = ‘nowadays’ that will have to be the topic for another blog, sometime.


1 When two become one
2 Any|more as time adverbial
2.1 Examples
2.2 Regional preferences (Table)
2.3 Online dictionaries say…
2.4 Usage guides say…
3 Any + more: examples and explanation
3.1 Non-standard as single word
4 Dataset details

1 When two become one, or the urge to merge

While recently reading Fanny Burney’s Evelina (1778), for example, I couldn’t help noticing how often ‘any body’ and ‘every body’ appeared as two words. any_more_evelina Here is Evelina (Letter XXIII, complete text & images here) describing her visit to a concert at the Pantheon, a concert hall:

There was an exceeding good concert, but too much talking to hear it well. Indeed I am quite astonished to find how little music is attended to in silence; for, though every body seems to admire, hardly any body listens.

To state the obvious, spelling is not fixed forever (or is that for ever?)

Some of the words we routinely write as one word nowadays, e.g. everybody, anybody as just mentioned, were regularly written as two at one time. The OED comments on anybody ‘formerly written as two words’ and has this quote from Disraeli that couples those two words: ‘Every body was there—who is any body.’ Vivian Grey, 1826.

To take a more current example, quite a few people write alot. Dictionaries do not yet accept this, but perhaps one day – presumably far in the future – they would, if it were to become the dominant spelling.

2 any|more as time adverbial any_more_keep_calm

The OED (3rd edn) entry dates this use back to before 1338, but the earliest documentary evidence is from the Wycfliffite Bible Jer. iii. 1   If a man schal leue his wijf & she… wedde anoþer man, wheþer shal she turnen aȝeen any more to hym?.

The word(s), whether written as one or two, are a time adverbial meaning ‘to no further extent; not any longer’. You have to use them in (implicitly or explicitly) negative, or (negative) interrogative, clauses, and they are the equivalent of a clause containing ‘no…longer’.

The OED does give anymore as an alternative spelling, but the earliest citation of it in writing is in the ‘American’ meaning of ‘from now on, currently’: We’ll squeeze Michael a bit. He’ll chip in anymore. (1971)


2.1 Modern examples of the alternative spellings

I think these are good people trapped in a very difficult if not terrible situation with a process that they’re not even using anymore. CNNYour Money, transcripts, 2013 (US)

It’s such a shame that people don’t seem to have any common sense anymore. Daily Telegraph, 2013 (BrE)

The principle being that the Tories scuppered our reform of the Lords, and so waaaah, boo hoo, you horrid rotters, we’re not playing with you any more, we’re going home and we’re taking our ball with us. Daily Telegraph, 2013 (BrE)

Using the slogan, “We’re mad as cows and we’re not going to take it any more,” the group has collected more than 2,000 signatures of the 4,500 needed by July 7…’ The New Farm, 2004 (US)


2.2 Regional preferences

This table shows the percentages for the varieties of English available in the Oxford English Corpus. As you can see, the highest preference for ‘anymore’ is in American-continent varieties (US, Can., Carib.), followed by Asian & S. Afr. Englishes. Irish is more or less evenly balanced, and the variety which least favours ‘anymore’ is New Zealand.

British 1,600 892 64.2% 35.8% 10
unknown 890 1,198 42.6% 57.4% 7
American 794 4,065 16.3% 83.7% 2
Australian 339 273 55.3% 44.7% 9
New Zealand 229 71 76.8% 23.2% 11
Irish 132 147 47.3% 52.7% 8
Indian 113 214 34.6% 65.4% 5
East Asian 73 237 23.5% 76.5% 4
Canadian 51 312 14% 86% 1
South African 48 72 40% 60% 6
Caribbean 14 55 20.3% 79.7% 3

2.3 Online dictionaries say…

The Oxford Online Dictionary, British & World English version, gives the two-word form under any, with the alternative ‘anymore’. But if you look up anymore as a solid, it is labelled ‘Chiefly N Amer variant of any more’.

If you use the US version of that dictionary, and enter ‘any more’ the entry you will find is anymore with the variant (also any more).

The UK-based Collins, in its British English version, gives you ‘any more or (especially US) anymore’, but if you look up ‘any more’ in the US version, the same thing happens as with Oxford: you are directed to the entry anymore, with ‘any more’ as a variant.

With Merriam-Webster online, if you enter the two-word form, you are immediately taken to the single-word one. In addition, there is a note stating: “Although both anymore and any more are found in written use, in the 20th century anymore is the more common styling. Anymore is regularly used in negative <no one can be natural anymore — May Sarton>, interrogative <do you read much anymore?>, and conditional <if you do that anymore, I’ll leave> contexts and in certain positive constructions <the Washingtonian is too sophisticated to believe anymore in solutions — Russell Baker>.

2.4 Style & usage guides say…

  • Telegraph style book: any more/anymore: we do not want any more errors in the newspaper; we will not put up with this anymore
  • Guardian Style Guide: Please do not say “anymore” any more

The Economist does not cover it, nor does the Chicago Manual of Style (though its page on Good usage versus common usage has single-word anymore in an unrelated entry, thereby, presumably, endorsing it).

The Merriam-Webster Concise Guide to English Usage does not mention it, but Pam Peters does, in her Cambridge Guide to English Usage. She comments on the US/British difference and says ‘But anymore (as adverb) tends to be replaced by the spaced any more in formal British style.’


3 Any + more as two words

Any + more as two words is appropriate in a range of comparative clauses, either followed explicitly by than, or with an implied comparison.

TIP: It’s a fair bet that if you’re writing something and follow any more with than in the next few words, writing it as two words is correct.

Similarly, if you follow any more with of as in 2) below, or an adjective, an adjective plus noun, or an adverb + adjective + noun as in 4-5) below, it should be two words.


In all cases, any is being used as a ‘submodifier’, comparable to other words such as, e.g. she is far/considerably/much/vastly + more + adjective, e.g.  talented/sophisticated/wealthy, etc + (than)…

The cases in which any + more is two separate words are:

1 more as a determiner (i.e. followed by an uncount or plural count noun, according to the usual rules for more):

My place is wherever America’s enemies are, to kill them before they kill any more Americans on our own soil. Empire of the Ants, 2004 (US)

…nothing that points directly at Chris Christie as having any more involvement than he said he did. The Situation Room, CNN Transcripts, 2014

…vertical integration takes place only for reasons of technological efficiency because it does not involve any more or less monopolization than what existed in the preintegration periodJrnl of Agricultural and Applied Economics, 2005 (US)

This Cambridge Dictionary link explains this basic point.

2 more as pronoun – often followed by of:

Overall, the book is very well written and does not assume any more than a basic knowledge of biology.  NACTA Jrnl, 2005 (US)

He took it upon himself to say ‘I am not going to stand any more of this messing about’. Irish Examiner, 2002

The changes do not make this opera any more of a masterpiece; Bizet ‘s music is still linked to a profoundly unsatisfactory libretto. MV Daily, 2003 (US)

3 any more as adjunct:

Mass production and high levels of craft detail do not usually go together, any more than low-budget buildings are tolerant of too many non-standard details. The Architectural Review, 2000 (AmE)

It still seems necessary to tell the country ‘s history, but the politics will not adhere to the art any more than it did for Wolfflin. Art Bulletin, 2000. (US)


4 more modifying adjective:

a) as subject/object complement

This activity did not make me feel any more despondent than usual, nor did I experience a loss of appetite or a tingling sensation in my lower extremities. Weekly Eye, 2003 (Canada)

Good designers may not be any more talented than you, they are just more aware of their surroundings. Art Business News, 2001 (US)

4 b) premodifying noun group

There can’t be any more horrifying images than the aftermath of Hiroshima or the mass slaughter of Chilean civilians under Pinochet.  Senses of Cinema, 2003 (Austr.)

I really have not given it any more detailed consideration than that because I did not see it as relevant to the point.  High Court of Australia transcripts (2001)

This work , informal and more up to date in concept than anything conceived by such established sculptors as Rysbrack or Scheemakers, was not immediately followed by any more large works. Oxford Companion to Western Art, 2001 (BrE)

5 any more modifying adverb

…the subjugation [ ] of music’s powers of expression results in a poignant intensity not to be realised by any more overtly pathetic means.’ Musical Times, 2004 (US)


3.1  Non-standard uses of anymore

Yow! I will not be giving them anymore business.  Blog, 2004 (Carib.) [see Examples 1 above]

I forgot in my thanks that I had decided not to use anymore bottles of bought water. Blog, 2007 (Austr.) [See Examples 1]

But the scandals and controversy do not overwhelm this Carroll saga anymore than it did the Carrolls themselves. Economic History Services,  2001 (US) [See Examples 3]

But this did not seem to help anymore than a cigarette or a glass of wine would have. Namibia Economist, 2003 (SAfr.) [see Examples 3]

4 Dataset details

The dataset I used for the figures given earlier does not cover all possible cases of any|more as a time adverbial – life’s too short – but it does cover a very frequent use of it, amounting to almost 12,000 examples. Using the Oxford English Corpus of 2.5 billion words (i.e. tokens), I carried out a fairly crude search for the word NOT + 1-4 words + ANY MORE and separately ANYMORE.

I then filtered out certain some obvious elements, such as than, or any more + adjective. The remaining examples were not 100% time adverbials, but nearly all of them were, and I’m happy that, since I applied the same filters to both searches, the proportion of irrelevant sentences for each search should in principle be the same.

Obviously, choosing not rather than the contracted forms is likely to extract more formal language. However, a quick check using -n’t suggests very similar figures.