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Any time now Nana will show up with the cookies.

What is the meaning of "any time now"? Should "any time" be one word or two? The words seem to conflict and are sort of nebulous because now refers to an exact instance whereas "any time" refers to multiple possible instances.

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Imminent, is another word –  Thursagen Jul 6 '11 at 0:32
    
One example of when you'd use "any time now" is when someone had been asking you when something would happen, and you'd been telling them "not yet," or "in a while." But finally, you've entered the time when it could happen, so you say "any time now." Because "now," you've arrived at the point where it could happen at "any time." –  Ascendant Oct 4 '11 at 2:52
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5 Answers

"Any time now" means the event in question is "imminent". That is you know it is about to happen soon, but don't know an exact time.

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It means "at an unknown time in the very immediate future" - i.e. we don't know exactly when Nana will arrive, but we expect her to arrive very soon, and possibly immediately.

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It means that the event will happen soon; any time from now on - but definitely soon. In fact, "soon" is a concise synonym of "any time now".

"Any time" could be consolidated into one word; however, this is unusual.

If you use the expression, I would recommend "any time now" rather than "anytime now".

As to "now", it does lend meaning to the phrase, by suggesting that though we are not sure of the exact time, we do know that Nana will come soon. Basically, it means any time from now on; probably sooner than later. Without the "now", we would not have any idea of how long we could potentially wait.

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My +1 is a vigorous recommendation of any time over the other thing. –  z7sg Ѫ Jul 5 '11 at 18:11
    
Most of the times I've heard it used were sarcastic. –  Optimal Cynic Jul 5 '11 at 19:37
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@Optimal: Maybe you were just applying your optimal cynicism :) –  Daniel Jul 5 '11 at 19:43
    
Whereas most of the times I've used it were diversionary... –  Optimal Cynic Jul 5 '11 at 19:44
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@Optimal: Good call! Check it out. –  Daniel Jul 5 '11 at 20:27
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"Any time now" means that you don't know the exact time, but that you expect it to happen very soon; momentarily. An equivalent expression might be:

"Some time soon, Nana will show up with the cookies."

It looks as if this expression is mainly used in American English, and any time now (see 12) may more often be written with "any time" as two words. Note that "anytime" is an alternative and you may see the similar expression anytime soon written with "anytime" as one word.

There does not seem to be a strong convention about when to write "any time now" as one or two words. "Any time now" appears in COCA 73 times; "anytime now" in COCA, 24; when looking at categories such as fiction, "any time now" is still the winner, but the difference is negligible. The corpus is most useful for understanding how "any time now" is used in this sense - it often has a connotation of impatient waiting (like hoping for the cookies to arrive soon), or a sense of anticipation, not always pleasant:

She looked at her watch. "The kids should be home any time now."
The captain almost fired me tonight. I'm on my way out. Anytime now.

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The other answers here give a good definition of "any time now" as "imminent" or "soon", but there are a few things I wanted to add:

  • To me, there is more of an urgent sense of anticipation or expectation with "any time now" than with synonyms like "soon"; that is, if someone you says "any time now" you might expect the event to occur during the conversation or very soon. Just plain "soon" is much more neutral and could refer to any upcoming timeframe, depending on context.

  • "Any time now" is a pretty informal, mostly spoken phrase. Nearly all the instances from the Corpus of Contemporary American English are from fiction and the spoken corpus. It would be out of place in formal writing.

  • In response to the original questioner's concern that "the words seem to conflict and are sort of nebulous", the response is that "any time now" is just an idiom—while its meaning is related to the words, the meaning of the whole phrase is not entirely deducible from the words themselves—it has a special meaning that must be memorized.

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