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Anyway or Anyways?

What’s the difference between anyway and anyways? Is one more correct than the other? 

By
Mignon Fogarty,
September 21, 2016

Anabell asks, "It is correct or incorrect to say 'anyways' to someone? As in 'Anyways, call me later!' 'Anyways' sounds like nails on a chalkboard to me."

The correct word is anyway, which is probably why the sound of anyways bothers you so much. Here are two examples of anyway being used correctly:

Anyway, call me later.

In that sentence, it’s being used to mean something like “getting back to what we were talking about” or maybe “regardless of what we just said.”

Here’s another example, where anyway means something like “regardless.”

Squiggly hated cooking, but Aardvark signed him up for classes anyway.

anyway anyways

Why Do People Still Say ‘Anyways’?

You might be wondering why you still see anyways spoken and written if it’s wrong. Even though the word is now widely considered an error, it’s not new. The Oxford English Dictionary has citations going back as far as the 1200s. Today, they say it’s considered part of some American dialects. So it’s not so much that it’s wrong like a simple misspelling of bureaucrat is wrong (which, unfortunately, I do all the time), but it’s wrong like you wouldn’t want to use it in a job application or a school essay, but it’s also common in some regions or communities.

According to Google’s Ngram Viewer, which is a decent measure of how often words appear in edited text, mostly books, there has been a steady rise in the use of anyways since the 1960s, even in edited text.

anyways ngram

However, anyway is still vastly more common. In fact, you can’t even see that the use of anyways is rising until you remove anyway from the chart because it’s so much more popular that it swamps out the instances of anyways:

anyway anyways ngram

‘Anyways’ or ‘Any Way’?

What about any way? When should you use any way and how does it differ from anyway? In the two-word phrase, the noun way is being modified by the adjective any. Here’s an example of a sentence where you’d use the two-word version:

Is there any way you could call me later?

Notice how you could substitute another adjective, like some, in that sentence.

You could say,

Is there any way you could call me later?

But you could also say,

Is there some way you could call me later?

Doing that test—can you substitute a different adjective?—can help you figure out whether you want the one-word version of anyway, or the two words: any and way.

The Adverb ‘Anyway’ Used to End With S

And the two-word any way leads us to another interesting point. You may have heard that anyway can’t take an S because it’s an adverb, but that’s just not true. It’s easy to think of examples that prove it wrong. For example, the adverbs forwards and backwards are standard in British English (even though we use forward and backward in American English). Always is another adverb that ends with S, and I bet you didn’t know that the adverb always was originally two words: all and ways

The Motivated Grammar blog explains that anyway is just like the adverbs always and sometimes, which also started out as two words: some and times. Long ago, English had more words that were something called the adverbial genitive, and some of them—like always, sometimes, and anyways—took an S. But because English isn’t consistent or predictable, always and sometimes kept their S and anyway lost it, at least as far as for what people want you to use in Standard English today. But knowing where anyways comes from maybe helps explain why it keeps showing up and sounds normal to some people. 

That’s some interesting history I didn’t expect to find when I started researching this topic, but your quick and dirty tip is still to use anyway, and not anyways, if you want to be safely considered educated and to not have your words sound like nails on a chalkboard to people like Anabell. Thanks for the question! 

This piece was originally published October 12, 2011 and updated September 21, 2016.

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