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I couldn't comment on Irene's post here, so I decided to make a topic.

I'd like to know whether this phrase: "I can give you any book that's left" is grammatically right since "some" and "any" are supposed to be used with noncount and plural count nouns.

The rule I'm referring to can be found in Quirk's grammar on page 256

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As usual, the devil is in the details. When I saw your question, I knew already that Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, and Svartvik couldn't have said that. If you read the rule on p. 256, you'll see that they talk about what they call "assertive" some and "nonassertive" any there. And on page 391 they discuss "assertive" any, which is used with all nouns, like in your example. –  Alex B. Jun 3 '12 at 12:51

4 Answers 4

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Any has two main functions in English. One function is as an existential determiner with noncount and plural count nouns in non-affirmative statements or questions (where no determiner is in fact necessary):

  • I don't have (any) money. - Do you have (any) money?
  • I don't have (any) friends. - Do you have (any) friends?

But any is also used as a free-choice or arbitary determiner, in which case it can appear in affirmative statements with a singular count noun. So:

  • I can give you any book that's left

is grammatical, and means something like:

  • Of all the books that remain I can give you one that you or I choose.
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Can you provide any reference (web-articles, books) for the further examination ? –  user1384991 Jun 3 '12 at 9:14
@user1384991, My answer is based on the discussion of any on pages 380-385 in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (2002), which, in my opinion, has supplanted Quirk as the most authoritative descriptive grammar. There is a shorter discussion on pages 48-50 of Swan's Practical English Usage Second Edition, which I consider to be the best prescriptive grammmar for beginning and intermediate learners of English. –  Shoe Jun 3 '12 at 9:25
The free choice sense is Positive-Polarity in the same way the normal sense is Negative-Polarity. Try using free-choice any without a possible modal like can, may, able, possible, X-able and you'll get ungrammaticality. Any is commensal with Operators. –  John Lawler Feb 17 at 18:03

I would interpret this to mean that you will give me my pick of any single book that remains available when I am allowed to choose.

If you had said, "I can give you any books that are left." I would expect that I would be given all the remaining books.

Some can be used to indicate indeterminism so if you had said, "I can give you some book that is left." I would expect to receive a book but, possibly not one of my choice.

Some can also be used to mean "not all" so if you had said, "I can give you some of the books that are left." I would expect to receive more than one of the remaining books- And here my expectation would be that I could help choose from the available books.

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Most of your answer seems ok, but the expectation of helping to choose (in the last case) is unwarranted. That is, "I can give you some of the books that are left" gives no basis for expecting such a choice. A choice might be offered, or might not. –  jwpat7 Jun 3 '12 at 0:26
@jwpat7- I don't disagree, but if only some of the books are given then a choice must be made and I would expect that if the speaker wanted to give me some books of his choosing he'd have said so. The fact that he left it open, by not saying anything about it, leads me to expect that he'll let me help choose. –  Jim Jun 3 '12 at 0:32

Constructions can be used to signal either mass or count status for virtually any noun (which means virtually any English word). There are several conventions.

  1. Many mass nouns representing indeterminate entities (the sea, the air, the spirit) can simply be aggregated as plurals (the seas, the airs, the spirits, the good spirits, the seven seas, etc.) to indicate generality and quantity.

  2. If mass nouns (especially ones representing bulk or liquid entities) are used as plural count nouns in constructions, the usage often indicates different varieties of the entity (made with sixteen grains, eighteen sherries at the tasting, seventeen inks employed in this drawing, etc).

  3. Contrariwise, if count nouns are treated as mass in constructions, the usage often indicates the substance (s, real or metaphoric) it's made of. Nothing to see but painted wall. She put pumpkin in the coffee. After the explosion there was car everywhere.

At need, almost any noun in English can be used either as mass or as count (or in other configurations, like granularity), just as -- also at need -- almost any English word can be zero-nominalized to make it a noun. You needn't wait for The Academy to make a proclamation; they're not expected to get around to it in our lifetimes.

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How does it satisfy the rule I mentioned in above. I mean "book" here is, obviously, not plural, not sure about noncount though. So do you mean it's a reclassification of singular into noncount ? If so, then for me, as a non-native speaker, it's really hard to imagine book as an undifferentiated mass. In case of the noncount "sugar" it's not sugar that can be viewed as countable but grains of it. I can't build the same logic for the noncount "book".I might've misunderstood you though. –  user1384991 Jun 3 '12 at 7:12
Phrases like "that's a lot of book to read" are common enough. A book isn't an undifferentiated mass, so we substitute one or more salient parts, like the amount of reading it represents. Mass and count noun categories, like definite and indefinite articles, are almost entirely a grammatical matter, and there are plenty of words like stone or rock that swing both ways. How you use it determines what you mean by it. –  John Lawler Jun 3 '12 at 15:08

I don't think it's a good idea for you to limit "any" to only Plural Count Nouns.

We should always take the context or situation into account. Or perhaps the speaker's expectation (not necessarily real).

For instance, we can ask:

  1. Are there any people in the cafeteria?

  2. Are there any books on the shelf?


  1. Was there anybody (any person) in the phone booth?

  2. Is there any book under the bed?

Similarly, saying "I can give you any book" would mean the speaker is likely to give only one, while "I can give you any books" would mean the speaker is likely to give more than one.

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