Sometime, Some Time, and Sometimes: Choosing the Right Word

The terms may sound and look similar, but they have different meanings

Mae West

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The words "sometime," "some time," and "sometimes" are related in meaning, but they're used in different ways. The adverb "sometime" (one word) means at an indefinite or unstated time in the future; as an adjective, "sometime" means occasional or former. The expression "some time" (two words) means "a period of time." The adverb "sometimes" (one word) means "occasionally, now and then."

How to Use Sometime

As an adverb, "sometime" suggests some unspecified point in time. For example, the famous 1930s and early 1940s comedian and actress May West was well-known for her quirky line:

  • "Why don't you come up sometime and see me?"

West uttered this phrase, which is often misquoted, while playing the part of a seductive nightclub singer in the1933 film, "She Done Him Wrong." She later paraphrased the quip in her next film, "I'm No Angel," as, "Come up and see me sometime," where she was trying to tempt her costar, Cary Grant, to come up to her room at some unspecified point in time.

To use "sometime" as an adverb—which is far less common in English—employ the term when you mean occasional, as in, "He's a full-time bartender and sometime actor." This means he's nearly always a bartender and not very often an actor.

How to Use Some Time

"Some time" is actually a phrase or expression rather than a word and means a period of time or quite a while. Technically, "some" is an adjective describing the noun, "time," which in this case is an idea, rather than a person, place, or thing. An acceptable use might state:

  • I fear that it will be "some time" before he is able to deal with his memories of the war.

The sentence is saying that it will be a long period of time before he is able to grapple with his wartime memories, and possibly post-traumatic stress disorder.

How to Use Sometimes

"Sometimes" is actually a compound of the words "some" and "time," but it has a very different meaning and use than its two-word cousin. Remember that used as one word, "sometimes" means occasionally or now and then. So, to use the term, you could say:

  • "Sometimes," he likes to sleep with his boots on.

In the sentence, the subject "he" (possibly a cowboy in a Western novel) does not always remove his footgear before slumbering.

Examples

Perusing examples will help illustrate how the terms are used, such as in the sentence:

  • Give me a call "sometime," and we'll talk about getting together.

In this sentence, a young man or woman might be suggesting that a prospective romantic partner call at some point in time in order to arrange a date. You can also use "sometime" to mean occasional, or (even more rarely) former, as in:

  • Sammy Hagar, a "sometime" lead singer for the band Van Halen, was booted from the band when former lead singer David Lee Roth expressed a desire to return to the group.

This sentence uses "sometime" to imply both occasional and former, expressing the fact that Hagar was an occasional and former singer with the famous 1980s rock band. To express a nearly opposite sentiment, use "some time" as two words:

Note here the addition of the adverb "quite" before "some time" to express the fact that this multi-decade rock group has been around for a very long time. Indeed, it is the longest-performing rock band of all time.

How to Remember the Difference

It's not difficult to distinguish between "sometime" and "some time" because they actually mean such different things. Remember that "sometime" as an adverb means an indefinite or unstated time, and as an adjective, it means occasional or former. Think of these as shorter periods of time. West probably wanted a suiter to visit her only for a single, limited period of time. And Hagar played with Van Halen for a limited period of time.

By contrast, "some time" is two words, so it's longer. The words are spaced apart and separated by a space. And that's the meaning of this term—for some time or for a long period of time.

However, distinguishing between "sometime" and "sometimes" can be trickier. Use this mnemonic device:

  • "Sometime" = a single unspecified period of time or occasional
  • "Sometimes"= occasionally, a few times, now and then

So, swap out the definitional words in the famous May West line:

  • "Why don't you come up at an unspecified period of time and see me?"

That sentence works because West's character wanted any potential suitor to come up at a single unspecified time (but only a single time). But if you say:

  • "Why don't you come up occasionally and see me?"

The word occasionally means "sometimes"—more than once, and probably a few times. West's character had many suitors in her films, so she certainly didn't want them coming to see her at various times; they might have run into each other. That's why "sometime" (a single unspecified time) works here rather than "sometimes" (meaning occasionally, or a few times).

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