Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Is there any difference between "Is there something wrong?" and "Is there anything wrong?"? Also, you would say "He would like something to drink" but "Would you like anything to drink?", right? I'd appreciate if any one could explain the usage of "something" and "anything".

share|improve this question

6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

As far as I can remember, this was a typical middle school exam question for British English in my years.

"Would you like something to drink" expects a positive answer.

I'm not sure what is the case in American English though.

share|improve this answer

To me, we typically expect a positive response when using "something".

Specifically:

It is common for "something" to be used in the affirmative and sometimes when asking a question with the expectation of a positive response. This is not a firm rule, just be aware of the context.

For example,

She bought something at the flea market.
Would you give him something to do?

It is common for "anything" to be used in the negative or interrogative and more commonly than"something" with questions.

For example,

He didn't want anything to do with those girls.
Is there anything that I can get you? (You can also say, "Is there something that I can get you," but using "anything" sounds a bit more polite.)

Here's the source.

In your examples, "Is there something wrong" probably implies you feel something might be wrong and want to confirm with others while "Is there anything wrong" is just a general inquiry whether anything is wrong at all. "Would you like something to drink" is likely to be heard in a bar where you are expected to order something to drink while "Would you like anything to drink" might just mean you want to know if a person is thirsty or not.

Furthermore, something indicates finiteness while anything doesn't place any restriction on the scope or quantity. That said, "Would you like something to drink?" might be synonymous with "Would you like to choose one from our (finite)collection of drinks on the shelf" while "Anything to drink" might mean anything drinkable that you could imagine.

"Would you like anything to drink" also sounds more polite to me as it doesn't potentially impose a positive response on the person(e.g., customer).

share|improve this answer
    
There does seem to be a connection between positive/negative and something/anything. Is it possible Do you want anything? is more likely than ...something in contexts where the expected answer is "No thanks" rather than "Yes please"? –  FumbleFingers Nov 27 '11 at 19:48
    
@FumbleFingers IMHO, it depends on specific contexts. For example, saying "Would you like anything to drink" to a friend who apparently wants something to drink would be a little impolite, since using "something" here otherwise would express the sincerity of my offer. –  Terry Li Nov 27 '11 at 20:31
    
+1 to @TerryLiYifeng; I might likewise say "Something is wrong," meaning that I've used "something" in a negative sense. "Anything is wrong" wouldn't even make sense. –  Adam Robinson Nov 27 '11 at 21:20
    
True! "She bought something at the flea market." gets a rather different meaning if you swap "something" with "anything". First case she came home with something in particular, while the second it sounds like she just bought anything she could and came home with a bunch of junk :p –  Svish Nov 28 '11 at 11:05
    
Thank you so much. Really helpful! –  Hiro Dec 3 '11 at 14:59

As others have said, there's no difference in meaning between anything and something, but there are important grammatical differences.

(1) Only something is used in independent positive statements. We can say Something is wrong, but we can't say *Anything is wrong.

(2) Only anything is used in negative statements. We can say I don’t know anything about it, but we can’t say *I don’t know something about it.

(3) Both can normally be used in questions, but there are exceptions and nuances. If you return from the store, I would ask you Did you buy anything? rather than Did you buy something? A speaker who didn’t hear what another person was saying would ask Did you say something? not Did you say anything? You might ask that in reply to someone who felt offended by the action or words of a third person.

(4) Something and anything can be used in making offers, but there are differences. If you were offering a wide choice of something, you’d say Help yourself to anything you want and not *Help yourself to something you want. And Would you like something for your birthday? is more forthcoming than Would you like anything for your birthday?

EDIT

The ‘Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English’ (LSGSWE) calls pairs like these ‘assertive’ (something) and ‘non-assertive’ (anything). It confirms that non-assertive forms are associated with negation, including implicit negation: I rarely find anything to laugh at in his jokes rather than *I rarely find something to laugh at in his jokes. It also points out that non-assertive forms are associated with conditional clauses, temporal clauses introduced by before and comparative and degree constructions. That’s not always the case with something and anything, but it is with the last: I like treacle tart more than anything and not *I like treacle tart more than something.

(The LSGSWE is the stripped-down version of the authoritative 'Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English'.)

share|improve this answer
    
+1 For the concise grammar explanation with illustrative examples. –  Irene Nov 27 '11 at 21:27
    
+10: great explanation –  Radek Nov 28 '11 at 3:31
    
Kind of you both to say so. I have added a little more information. –  Barrie England Nov 28 '11 at 8:38
    
+1 Your answer is much more organized and comprehensive than mine. Good example to follow. –  Terry Li Nov 28 '11 at 16:45
    
@TerryLiYifeng: Thanks. –  Barrie England Nov 28 '11 at 16:46

In the context of Would you like..., something and anything are effectively synonyms. I don't think there's any case to be made for any (some) subtle difference in meaning, but in practice it seems something is significantly more common.

enter image description here

But curiously, it's always I would like something to eat when presented as a statement. Almost all occurrences of would like anything to eat here turn out to be things like He asked if we would like anything to eat (reflecting the word as used in the original question).

In short, use either when asking a question, but note that when making a statment we simply don't say I would like anything to eat.

Moving to the more general case, I looked at I want something/anything to..., where it seems clear that something is normally used for straightforward expression of a desire, but anything mainly occurs in "negating" constructions, such as It's not that I want anything to happen.

share|improve this answer
    
I don't think the two are synonyms; I think 'something' infers you want to make the decision, whereas 'anything' means the other party will make the decision. If you said "I want something to eat" you will make the call on what you will eat, but if you said "I want anything to eat!" it means you'll take whatever the other party offers. –  Bob Nov 27 '11 at 23:08
    
Well you might say "I want anything to eat!" with that meaning. But I wouldn't, and I doubt I've ever heard anyone else say it either, so perhaps that's a dialectal thing. And I'd still expect to make my own choice if a service worker asked me if I wanted anything, whether it was to eat or not. I can't believe any significant number of speakers would make your distinction based on who chooses the food. –  FumbleFingers Nov 28 '11 at 3:11
    
I meant it to be awkward (too subtle a point I suppose). In context though, you're right if someone asks if you want something/anything it works either way. Still, I think there's a distinctive feel to the two words. They can't be swapped without at least mildly changing the meaning in many cases. –  Bob Nov 28 '11 at 3:58
    
I agree with you there are subtle differences, but they don't apply in all contexts. The problem is that what seems like an "edge case" to you or me (where we know which we prefer) might not be so for another person. I personally don't think I can really distinguish "Can I get you something?" from "Can I get you anything?", for example. So if someone else can, they're wasting a subtle shade of meaning if they choose one over the other when talking to me, whatever their intentions. –  FumbleFingers Nov 28 '11 at 13:20
    
Thank you so much!!!! –  Hiro Dec 3 '11 at 15:03

In your examples anything means the same as something. However the two words may not mean the same in other contexts. For example,

I will give you something

means I will give you a thing

I will give you anything

means I will give you whatever thing you ask for.

share|improve this answer

In deciding between the two that are equivalent, you can look at the suggestive connotative meaning of the root words some and any. Some is often suggestive of a part of a whole, while any is one or more things out of many things.

So:

Would you like some cake? Did you take any pictures?

If the answers are suggestive of a part:

We have lots of food. Would you like something? (some of the food, not all)

Or if it's multiple things:

We have replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, and the Great Wall of China. Would you like anything? (one or more of those things).

As you can see, for either of those examples using the opposite wouldn't quite make sense.

share|improve this answer
    
Very comprehensible explanation, thank you! –  Hiro Dec 3 '11 at 15:06

protected by RegDwigнt Jul 5 '12 at 8:42

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

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.