English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

This question has troubled me for ages despite my several attempts of looking it up in dictionaries or usage books. Do we say, "Do you have any ideas" or "Do you have any idea"? I do see an example where "any" means "it doesn't matter who/which/what", therefore "You can borrow any book you like." Also, does it matter between using it in questions and negatives?

share|improve this question
english.stackexchange.com/questions/111444/any-individual-or-any-individuals possible duplicate. – MετάEd May 2 '13 at 0:46
This is what comes from looking in dictionaries and usage books for grammar information. It's not there, sorry. And that's not how any works. It can modify either plural count nouns or singular mass nouns, which means that any singular noun modified by any is automatically interpreted as a mass noun. That's what happens to idea; it is interpreted as meaning 'thought; mentation'. This is not all that surprising, since, while idea is usually a count noun, it is hard to distinguish an idea from some idea. Ideas are not notably countable. – John Lawler May 2 '13 at 0:47
english.stackexchange.com/questions/75654/any-requirement-or-any-requirements another possible duplicate. – MετάEd May 2 '13 at 1:01
Before asking any question check previous posts. Any questions? – Kris May 2 '13 at 10:19
@John Lawler Women are notably countable. 'Ask any woman' is acceptable. Are you saying that there is a non-obvious massification (implying womankind) here? – Edwin Ashworth Apr 24 '15 at 22:35

It depends on the context. If a group of people is brainstorming (that is, trying to come up with a bunch of creative possibilities to solve a problem), then I might ask someone "Do you have any ideas?" In this situation, I am expecting that they may have several ideas that are relevant to the problem.

However, if I am asking for an answer to a specific question, I might say something like, "I can't remember what the capital of Pakistan is, do you have any idea?" In this situation, I am expecting that they might have one specific piece of information to offer. This is probably a more colloquial or idiomatic expression than the other one.

And yes, the use of "any" does have a lot to do with questions and negatives. "Any" is a negative polarity item, which means it can only happen in certain contexts. For example, I would never say "I have any ideas" or "I have any books", but I would say "I don't have any ideas" and "I don't have any books". I don't really know how to give you a full explanation of where or why "any" can be used though. The example you give about borrowing "any book" is certainly correct, even though it isn't negative or a question.

share|improve this answer
+1 for detailed explanation. – shashwat Jan 10 '14 at 5:23
+1, and it's Islamabad, by the way. ;) – pugmarx May 7 '15 at 4:59

I've been teaching English for almost five years now. My students have had this question before.

According to the books I've used (specifically Smart Choice by Oxford University Press and English in Mind by Cambridge), "any" is used only for uncountable nouns and plurals and when the sentence is a question or a negative. In the example above about "Do you have any ideas?/Do you have any idea?" consider that "Do you have any idea?" is using "idea" as a synonym of "notion" which in turn is uncountable. You would never use "any" for a singular noun you can count. Could you say "Do you have any books?/Do you have any book?"?

Remember that formulas exist in languages but we humans can break them, like the "ajective before a noun" formula in "it came upon a midnight clear" or "All remaining passengers must wait in the lounge/ All passengers remaining must wait in the lounge."

In college I was taught that languages evolve because the people who use the language bend the rules. We invent the language, therefore we can re-invent it and reverse the rules at whim.

share|improve this answer

protected by tchrist Jun 15 '14 at 14:20

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.