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There are a few uses of "sometime" and "some time". There are two in particular I'm interested in.

One is to refer to a period of time. Examples:

  • I will spend some time tomorrow doing the washing.
  • She spent some time running around the backyard before returning back inside.

"sometime" is considered wrong here.

And the other use is "some indeterminate point in time". Examples:

  • Historians date the fall of the Roman Empire at sometime in the late 5th century.
  • I will arrive sometime tomorrow.

In this second usage all online sources I've seen and this answer say "sometime" is correct", and implying (as far as I can see) that "some time" is incorrect.

I had a feeling that "sometime" in the second usage I mentioned may not be the only acceptable form, and also that the sources I saw were American websites (though I can't be sure). So I've done a search on Google NGram Viewer, with search terms I feel will minimize confounding results, for its frequency in BrE and AmE.

The terms I used was "happened sometime in", "happened some time in".

In American English the results show the single word version, "sometime" to be more frequent ever since about the 60s.
Link

In British English the results show the two-word version "some time" to be generally more frequent over the entire period, up to the latest point for which there is data (2008) (link).

Searching for the terms "born some time in" and "born sometime in" shows the single-word version leading in frequency by an enormous margin in American English, and has been the more popular version since about the 1920s (link) whereas in British English the difference is much smaller, with one prevailing over the other and vice versa during different time periods. Further, it seems the trend is that even in British English the single-word "sometime" is becoming more frequent (link).

I know that writers of American English will definitely say that the two-word version "some time" is definitely wrong for the second usage I mentioned, I'm just wondering if British English writers consider "some time" to be correct, acceptable, or incorrect, or whether they use it themselves, because there does seem to be a difference between BrE and AmE from the looks of it.

Also, I'm aware that in many parts of the world written English is neither purely AmE nor BrE, but to a lesser or greater extent can be a hybrid of the two.

  • Sometime is an adverb or adjective, not a noun, so *at sometime in the late 5th century_ would be incorrect on both sides of the Atlantic. – KarlG Jan 31 at 17:37
  • @KarlG I could write "at some time in the late 5th century, but given that the general American English rules are not to use "some time" to mean "some indefinite point of time", would that be wrong? – Zebrafish Jan 31 at 17:55
  • No, see part of speech concerns above. at any time, at a convenient time, at no time, at some time. There’s also a difference in pronunciation. – KarlG Feb 1 at 10:52
  • @KarlG So the rules given in my links about when to use sometime vs some time don't apply to all cases, because it can't be "At sometime in the future" ? – Zebrafish Feb 1 at 11:49
  • Yes. The difference is only whether in adverbial use it's an open compound. Plus, searching using a different construction some time/sometime this (morning, September, autumn, etc.) yields a lot more hits from England for some reason. It would seem that both are currently used, but some time this afternoon would be an error in the US. – KarlG Feb 1 at 12:25
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British writers who use some time in those instances where Americans would use the closed compound are following the advice of Henry Watson Fowler (d. 1933), whose preference for restricting sometime to adjectival use has been repeated in subsequent editions of his 1926 Dictionary of Modern English Usage:

Some time, sometime, etc. advv. Some time is often used elliptically for at one time or another. There is no essential objection to writing it some-time or sometime, but it is convenient to keep it separate words for distinction from the sometime that appears in such descriptions as ‘sometime Fellow of …’, ‘sometime Rector of this Parish’, meaning formerly. — Henry Watson Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 1994, 550.

Fowler juxtaposes “no essential objection” to “convenience”: he does not declare the adverbial use of the closed compound an error, merely a way of keeping adverb and adjective neatly apart.

Many writers on the BBC website follow Fowler’s preference:

Salford City Council said the theft, which happened some time last week, had been reported to police. — BBC News/Manchester, 20 Aug. 2018.

Caernarfon Crown Court heard the filming happened in Liverpool some time between January 2007 and December 2009, and it was found by an ex-partner. — BBC News/Wales, 9 Aug. 2018

The alleged “assault or assaults” happened some time before 03:45 GMT on 11 February, the court heard previously. — BBC News/Hampshire, 11 Dec. 2018.

Network Rail says the fire damage was so extensive it has had to rebuild the equipment room from the ground up but hopes to have all lines back open "some time Friday morning". — BBC Newsround, 21 Dec. 2012.

On the same BBC website, however, sometime also appears, especially in news sourced from Northern Ireland and occasionally from Wales and Scotland:

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) found that the spillage had happened sometime in the late afternoon on Friday 10 June.

Police said the incident happened sometime between 21:30 BST and 22:00 BST near a local school. — BBC News/Northern Ireland, Foyle & West, 26 Oct. 2018.

The crash, which happened sometime before 01:30 GMT, involved a blue Vauxhall Astra. — BBC News/Wales, 21 Nov. 2018.

About 900 litres of syrup leaked on to a road in a Highland village after the container holding the sticky liquid was vandalised. Police said the vandalism in Conon Bridge happened sometime between 16:00 and 18:00 on Sunday — BBC News/Scotland: Highlands, Islands, 21 Sept. 2015.

The National Audit Office is already investigating the economic case for the roll-out of smart meters, and is due to report sometime this summer. — BBCNews/Business, 21 July 2018.

The last chick emerged from its shell sometime on Saturday morning to join its three siblings that hatched on Friday. — BBC News/Norfolk, 3 May 2016

Greater Manchester Police said it was investigating after being called at 10:15 GMT on Monday to the building in Manchester Street following reports of a burglary, which is thought to have happened sometime after midday on Saturday. — BBC News/Manchester, 9 Jan. 2019.

The vandalism at St Mary's Church in Mendlesham, near Stowmarket, happened sometime between Friday evening and Saturday morning, Suffolk Police. — BBC News/Suffolk, 10 Jan. 2018.

Though there may be an English preference for the open compound, the presence of both forms on the BBC website suggests the choice of open or closed is left to each writer rather than being proscribed, say, by a network-wide stylesheet. Given Fowler’s “no essential objection,” it’s not surprising that some writers fail to see a “convenience” in an orthographical distinction for a fairly infrequent adjective.

In the United States, however, the closed compound is the overwhelming choice:

They say the incident happened sometime last week. The group believes the vandal or vandals were trying to break into the church, but were unsuccessful. — 6-ABC, Philadelphia, 13 July 2018.

Daphne Kirksey, spokeswoman for Tennessee American, said the break happened sometime between 5:15 and 5:30 a.m., allowing water to spill downhill to Scenic Highway with bitter cold temps turning some of it to ice. — Times Free Press (Chattanooga TN), 31 Jan. 2019.

The shooting happened sometime before 3 a.m. at Ben E. Keith Foods warehouse in the 700 block of Cravens, according to the Missouri City Police Department. — Houston Business Journal, 20 Aug. 2018.

Although they would be considered nonstandard, there are scattered instances of the open compound:

Sheriff Moon said it happened some time between 7 and 8 a.m. Monday near the 1900 block of Skyball Road. — 6-WBRC, Birmingham AL, 15 Jan. 2019.

She explained another incident happened some time between Monday afternoon and Tuesday afternoon, November 12-13, … — South Pittsburgh Reporter (PA), 20 Nov. 2018.

The phrase some time before x occurred far more frequently than with other prepositions:

A 911 dispatcher said the explosion happened some time before noon. — TribLive (Tribune-Review, Western PA), 31 Oct. 2018.

It happened some time before 11:45 p.m. Thursday in the area of North Mollison and Park avenues, near a back parking lot to the high school, according to a statement by the El Cajon Police Department. — KUSI, San Diego, 22 June 2018.

Although it can reveal broad differences in usage, the designation in Google Books as British or American is wildly inaccurate. Indian and Australian sources, for instance, can wind up anywhere, not to mention scientific literature written by non-native speakers.

  • 1
    Thank you for your great answer. I searched newspapers in the British Isles, and the results I got seemed to show that "sometime" was more common, strangely. But then I searched Australian newspapers and it was overwhelmingly the two-word "some time". I tried searching South African papers, but didn't get far with that. I'm not sure whether we should promote one version, that way world English can (kind of) become more standardized. I mean it's a trivial thing I can't imagine people having a problem with changing it. Then again if it's so trivial then we should probably just leave it be. – Zebrafish Jan 31 at 17:07
  • In the third example (11 Dec. 2018), 'some time' could have arguably been used for a period of time (OP's first use), rather than a point in time, analogously to 'happened two hours before 03:45'. – jsw29 Jan 31 at 18:29
  • @jsw29: I think you'd need some other cue: It must have happened some time before we arrived because the broken glass was almost completely hidden by snow. – KarlG Feb 1 at 14:40
  • Thanks for the addition. Seeing all those sources with the rule of "sometime" and "some time" is definitely confusing considering there's no hard and fast rule in BrE (doesn't seem to be). It's also confusing given that the sources don't give the exception to the rule, namely in what you pointed out, "At sometime before lunch." (Wrong) even in US. Very confusing indeed, at least for me. Thank you, I've accepted your answer. – Zebrafish Feb 1 at 15:05

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