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Here in Japan, many of my students use "any" in a negative sentence like this:

"Please note that any club/group cannot use the copy machine after 8:00pm."

I believe this is grammatically incorrect, or at least unnatural and should be:

"Please note that no club/group can use the copy machine after 8:00pm."

My question(s) is/are:

  • Is the first sentence grammatically incorrect or is it just a matter of natural style?
  • In the case that it is grammatically incorrect, what is the rule regarding such a sentence construction? (Any . . .cannot vs No.....can)

I would like to give them a reason for changing their work beyond "It's just a native-English thing".

Thank you very much for your help on this.

GT in Japan

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Thank you for your reply. But the key point is why is it incorrect? I have to give them a reason for changing their work beyond "It's just a native-English thing. . ." –  user51593 Sep 10 '13 at 8:08
    
Allowing clubs not to use the copy machine after 8 pm (I'm sure they're grateful, it must be exhausting coming in every night) is not the same thing is not allowing them to use it. –  TimLymington Sep 10 '13 at 9:05
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2 Answers

You are correct. Any ... cannot sounds very wrong in my ears

You can however use this construct:

Please note that the copy machine cannot be used by any club/group after 8:00pm.

or

Please note that after 8:00pm, the copy machine cannot be used by any club/group

I apologise that I cannot find any rules you can use to explain this to them.

Perhaps someone else can

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The nearest I can get to any kind of rule derives from the distinction made in the ‘Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English’ between ‘assertive’ forms such as some and non-assertive forms such as any. The authors write that ‘non-assertive forms follow the not'. This would allow the passive construction:

The copy machine cannot be used by any group after 8:00pm.

but would not allow the active construction in your example, where any precedes (can)not.

This explanation might need testing. A single counter-example would undermine it.

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That's the same as I posted, no? –  mplungjan Sep 10 '13 at 8:50
    
@mplungjan No, this answer quotes a source giving a rule. –  Andrew Leach Sep 10 '13 at 9:10
    
I meant the resulting sentence –  mplungjan Sep 10 '13 at 9:11
    
Thank you for your comments. Further to my earlier example, note that the positive version of the statement has no problem: "Please note that any club/group can use the copy machine after 8:00pm." I am stumped on this.... –  user51593 Sep 11 '13 at 1:09
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