Luke Taylor

Grammar Grater®

with Luke Taylor

Episode 52: Anyway You Want It

We're taking a look at anyway — a transitional phrase that really grates on some people's nerves when an "s" is added to it.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines anyway as "in any way or manner, anyhow; to any degree or extent, in any measure." People often use the word to sum up a conversation, dismiss a comparison, or transition into a new topic.

Confusion arises with quite a few of the compounds formed with any. Compare these two sentences:
I'd like to meet anybody.
He'd like to meet any body.
The same thing happens when you put "any" together with "way."
I'd like to get out of here anyway.
I'd like to get out of here any way possible.
Additionally, it sounds correct to use a two-word phrase and pluralize the noun "way" as "ways" as in:
Seriously, are there any ways out of here?
But that's the nominal use of the phrase. When using the word to mean "in any case," anyway is being used as an adverb; and adverbs, because they are uncountable, cannot be plural.

Fowler's Modern English Usage says that anyways was used in many literary contexts during the last four centuries, but it has fallen out of standard UK use, though it does survive in regional dialects.

The Oxford English Dictionary, is less forgiving in its prescription, and refers to anyways as "dialectal or illiterate"; given that, it's probably best to avoid the expression altogether in written formal English.

Spoken English is different, though, and here at Grammar Grater, we like to provide an occasional tip to help our listeners remember a particular phrasing. In this case, anyway and anyhow can be used interchangeably. So, if you are prone to saying anyways, a good trick to try is swapping it with anyhow.
Anyhows, I'd better by going.
This formulation sounds obviously incorrect.
Anyhow, I'd better by going.
That sounds correct, so the appropriate usage must be anyhow or anyway.

Sources: The Oxford English Dictionary, Fowler's Modern English Usage by R.W. Burchfield.

Music from this Episode: "Any Way You Want It" by Journey and "Buddy Holly" by Weezer.

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