Thursday, June 17, 2010

Confused Sometimes?

I always thought ahold was spelled that way. You know, as in “He telephoned to get ahold of her.” Nope. It’s spelled as two words, a hold. Okay, before you let out that snort, let me ask you which is correct, alot or a lot? Uh-huh—a lot of people spell it as one word (which is wrong). But the one that has driven me crazy since I got a hold of how to spell ahold is whether I should use some time(s) as two words, or sometime(s) as a single word. Do you know the answer?

Yeah, I bet you’re foaming at the mouth to know. Well, I looked it up, and guess what? Both are correct—but not interchangeably.

So here we go with an explanation.

The single word sometime(s) can be used as either an adjective or as an adverb. As an adjective, it modifies (or describes or characterizes) a noun. So in the sentence “Sam is my sometimes boyfriend,” the word sometimes modifies (or describes or characterizes) the noun boyfriend. Or, in another example, “Sam is a sometime leader,” the word sometime modifies the noun leader. Frankly, the use of sometime(s) as an adjective is pretty much archaic, so now that you’ve read about it, you can delete it from your memory. (Sorry, I’m a sometimes obsessive-compulsive when it comes to being thorough.)

The most common use of the single word sometime(s) is when it’s used as an adverb. Scratching your head trying to remember what an adverb is? Swallow hard (I’m going OC again): an adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.  I know, I know, makes you want to vomit to think of being so obtusely analytical like that. So forget that definition and grab a hold of this oneà à à one function of an adverb is to tell “when,” or “how often.” And guess what? That’s exactly what sometime(s) does! It tells “when/how often.” Ta daaaa! *lightbulb moment*

Two examples: “Sometimes I love grammar.” (How often do I love grammar? Sometimes. Certainly not always!) “I’m coming to see you sometime this year.” (When this year? Oh, sometime….)

Okay, to review, then—when used as an adjective or an adverb, sometime(s) is a single word. Sooooo, when is it used as two words, some time(s)? You’re going to hate this. You use it as two words when time is a noun, and some is an adjective modifying time. Yep, that’s where I got tangled up in the first place. Quit now with what you learned above, and you’ll still be ahead of the game. Or grit your teeth and clamp on to this final though agonizing explanation.

Some time(s) will usually be used after a preposition like at. You can say either “At some time I will come visit you,” or eliminate the at and simply say “Sometime I will visit you.” Trust me, you don’t want me to go into how time in the first sentence is a noun because it’s the object of a preposition. Just go for the bottom line and use the two words some time(s) after a preposition, or make it really easy on yourself and eliminate using prepositions with it at all! If you use time(s) as a noun, though, you’re going to have use some as a separate word. Example: “You’ll need some time to catch on to this grammar usage.” Or, “History teaches us some times are more difficult to live through than others.”

Well, ahem, that little blogtime cleared it up for me, anyway! Simply put, use sometime(s) when it tells when or how often, and use some time(s) when time(s) is used as a noun. Or better yet, just go for sometime(s) all the time and risk those rare occasions when you’d be incorrect.

How about you? Is there a tricky little word you have trouble spelling ?

Steph Prichard


  1. Steph

    I wasn't confused by some time/sometime, but I certainly was entertained by this post! Nice voice.

    E-mail me: editor (at) acfw (dot) com

  2. Hmm, Steph, my large Random House Webster's Dictionary has "ahold" as one word (and I've always used it that way), meaning: "grab" -- example: "He took ahold of my arm." Whatever -- this is a fun and informative post, and shows how fluid and variable words are, and dictionaries, too. . . :-)

  3. "Farther" and "further" have driven me nuts for years. Finally, I'm beginning to get a hold of it: farther denotes distance, and further means more or to a greater extent.

  4. Millie: my Collegiate Webster Dictionary spells it as two words. Hmmm, I suspect it's older than yours and perhaps out of date? Nooooo, I worked too hard to relearn that spelling! But, hang on, the authority that reigns--Spellcheck!!!--refuses to accept "ahold" as one word. *whew* Like you say, Millie, words and dictionaries are fluid! ;-)

    Rachael: thanks, girlie--you stole my next blog post! Oh well, how many people read "comments" anyway? I know, I know, you're faithful, Millie (bless your heart)!

  5. I can never spell diarrhea correctly without looking it up or using spell-check.

  6. I thought of another! Affect and effect.