Lesson #238: The differences between Sometimes vs Some Time, Anytime vs Any Time, Overtime vs Over Time

📘 ‘Altogether it was a perfect night, such a night as you sometimes get in Southern Africa, and it threw a garment of peace over everybody as the moon threw a garment of silver over everything.’

– H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines (1885)

For many of you, reading adventure stories was an important part of your life growing up!

We often forget that such books were themselves influenced by some of the famous classics of 19th century British literary culture. 📚

🏝️ One of the most influential was King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard (the other being Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson). It tells the story of three men: the mysterious adventurer Allan Quatermain, and two friends, Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good, who all three travel deep into Africa to try to find Sir Henry’s brother who has gone missing in search of the legendary King Solomon’s mines.

While the novel is written in fairly easy language (and for this reason is often marketed as children’s literature), it has many violent descriptions as its main characters were depicted (shown) as travelling in rough and dangerous territories where native Africans were often hostile (like enemies) towards them.

Yet it is a remarkable book for trying to describe many African customs and characters. In fact it has a stronger focus on the Africans in the story than it does on the white European characters. 🪔

As you can imagine, it would have taken a very long time for Europeans to travel hundreds of miles across the African continent in the 1880s.

Because of this, the book is full of allusions (references) to time, which in turn inspired the content of this Lesson!

✏️ There are three common word groups that are sometimes difficult for English learners to comprehend fully. These are as follows:

  • Sometimes vs sometime vs some time
  • Anytime vs any time
  • Overtime vs over time

These are the focus of today’s Lesson. We will refer to H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines to help illustrate our points as we go.


📝 SOMETIME VS SOMETIME VS SOMETIMES

📘 ‘Sometimes, if the landing is bad at East London, where they have not yet made that wonderful harbour they talk so much of, and sink such a mint of money in, a ship is delayed for twenty-four hours before the cargo boats can get out to take off the goods.’

– H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines (emphasis mine)

Sometimes (a closed compound word) is an adverb. It basically means ‘now and then’ or ‘occasionally’. 🗝️

✒️ To give a simple example of it in use, we could say ‘When the weather is warm, I sometimes walk in the park’ – in other words, you don’t always walk in the park during warm weather, nor do you often walk in the park in warm weather, but you do it only sometimes or now and then or occasionally.

📘 ‘I took the bone pen, and it is before me as I write— sometimes I use it to sign my name.’

– H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines (emphasis mine)

Sometime (as a single word, without the final ‘s’) is also an adverb, but it is more vague and unspecified compared with ‘sometimes’. ‘Sometime’ means ‘at an unspecified time in the future’ or ‘someday’. 🗝️

✒️ For example: ‘I hope to meet you sometime when you are back in town.’

By contrast, some time as two separate words is basically a noun (‘time’) preceded by an adjective (‘some’). As such it means ‘a long period of time’ or ‘at some point’. 🗝️

✒️ For example, ‘She tried to learn German, but it was some time before she could speak it well.’

📘 ‘Finally, we prevailed upon him to consent to this arrangement, but George Curtis did not know of it until some time afterwards.’ [Here ‘some time’ means ‘a long period of time’]

– H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines (emphases mine)

📘 ‘ “There, also, is a deep pit, which, at some time, long-dead men dug out, mayhap for the stones ye speak of, such as I have heard men in Natal tell of at Kimberley.” ’ [Here ‘some time’ means ‘at some point’]

– H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines (emphases mine)


📝 ANYTIME VS ANY TIME

Anytime as a closed compound word can be either an adverb or a conjunction meaning ‘whenever’. 🗝️

Here is a sample sentence using ‘anytime’: ✒️ ‘If you are ever stuck in your new job, you can ask me anytime for help.’

Any time (two separate words) means either ‘at a single time’ or ‘any amount of time’. 🗝️ Notice how these meanings emphasise ‘time’ as a noun.

For example: ✒️ ‘She said she could meet me at any time on Thursday.’

✍️ If you are unsure when to use ‘any time’, ask yourself one of these questions:

  • Does it need ‘at’ before it? 👉 If so, write it as separate words ‘at any time’, (not ‘at anytime’).
  • Could ‘any’ be excluded (or substituted by another adjective) and still leave the sentence grammatically unaffected (i.e. making sense)? 👉 If so, use ‘any time’ (as two separate words) and do not use ‘anytime’.


📝 OVERTIME VS OVER TIME

Overtime is an adverb that is often used in work situations, since it means ‘time worked above the number of hours one is expected to work’. 🗝️

✒️ In other words, in a hypothetical situation where Mary is hired to work from 9am-5pm, but stays on to work until 6pm, she would be described as ‘working overtime’.

As mentioned before, when you see the phrase with two separate words, in this case over time, you can be sure that the emphasis is on the noun ‘time’. This phrase describes something that happened ‘gradually’. 🗝️

For example,

✒️ ‘I lived in the UK for a year. Over time, I developed an accent and began to sound like a native English speaker …’, or,

✒️ ‘I found driving difficult at first but over time I became more confident.’

I hope that this has been helpful. If you ever feel you would like to practice these points some more, feel free to contact me and we can cover these more fully in a single one-on-one lesson together.