We writers often have to contend with compound words that begin their life as two words only to eventually morph into one. “Backyard” is a good example. It originally was two words, “back yard,” used to describe the area behind a house. Sometime in the mid-1600s, it successfully made the transition to a single compound word.
Then there are other compounds that are in limbo, somewhere in the midst of the transition from two words to one. Consider “health care,” a topic on everyone’s mind these days. If you Google it, you’ll get about 63 million returns for the two-word compound but a whopping 129 million for the single word “healthcare.” That’s a good indicator that the single word will soon be standard. However, most style manuals still mandate the two-word version.
To complicate matters even further, we have words with separate meanings as a single-word compound or as two individual words. “Anyway” and “any way” are two that often perplex writers. These are entirely different terms that do indeed have distinct meanings.
“Anyway” is an adverb, and it means regardless or in any event:
Marshall’s grades have slipped, but he plans to apply to Harvard anyway.“Any way” is a paired adjective and noun meaning any particular course, direction, or manner:
Chloe is willing to help Marshall prepare for the SAT in any way she can.Then we have “anyways,” a colloquial corruption of “anyway.” It’s universally considered nonstandard and should be avoided altogether. It might help to remember that “anyway” is an adverb, and adverbs can’t be plural.
by Jacquelyn Landis