Sometimes, it’s not the letters in a word that matter, but the spaces between them. One little space can wreak a lot of havoc. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “anyone” versus “any one.”
I know, it sounds like nitpicking. But if you’ve been around me for more than five minutes, you’ll know that I live atop the soapbox that is clarity. The clearer we are in writing, the more enlightenment we can bring to the world. Write what you mean and mean what you write (but don’t be mean when you write). So when I tell you that the space between “any” and “one” changes its meaning, I’m going to have to ask you to trust me that it matters.
“Anyone” as a single word always refers to people. Humans. Sentient beings. Homo sapiens. Et cetera. No two ways about it. If you write “Does anyone want to come over tonight?” on your Facebook wall, you’re not inviting dogs or paper clips or frozen pizzas (though a nice anyone might bring over one of those). You’re inviting people. Any of the people who might see that posting, actually. (You might want to be more specific – this is how those crazy parties in John Hughes movies get started.)
Confusingly, “any one” can also refer to humans. “Any one of my friends could be the Sausage King of Chicago!” “Any one of our students could end up in a parade!” You catch my drift. However, and here’s where the English language likes to mess with us, “any one” can also refer to non-human entities, objects, ideas, or just about anything else. To wit:
- Any one of the garages on this street might contain a red Ferrari.
- Any one of the following symptoms may indicate stomach flu: fever, clammy hands, vomiting, or fatigue
- Any one of a thousand reasons might explain why a student would skip school.
So, my friends, how are we supposed to remember this? We’ve arrived at the part of the post where I give you a helpful tip on how to recall which version to use when writing something. I banged my head against the desk a few times, went and made a cup of cocoa, petted a couple of cats, and still couldn’t come up with anything really clever. But perhaps this will work:
Imagine the space between the words “any” and “one” as being infinite, able to contain multitudes. Where there is space, there is possibility. So when you write “any one,” remember that it can refer to an infinite number of things – cars, guitars, rock stars, Mars bars, whatever you like. Without that little space between the Y and the O, though, you’re limited to talking about people, yo.
This blog entry appears at the request of my delightful friend Stewart, who complained about seeing this error in documents he was dealing with at work. Thanks Stu! Prompts always welcome.