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I suppose in this sentence "any" means "all" and/or "every" reference occured in DEF_2 and DEF_3.

One shall remove any reference to those items in DEF_2 and DEF_3.

Is this correct?

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

I think that the use of "any" in your example sentence is "correct", but your use of "shall", while not incorrect by any means, is the culprit leading to confusion.

Consider the following variations, as I believe they shed light on the interpretation of the original sentence:

One shall remove any reference to those items in DEF_2 and DEF_3. (original)


One shall remove all reference to those items in DEF_2 and DEF_3.


One should remove any reference to those items in DEF_2 and DEF_3.

I believe the lack of clarity is not with the the word "any" but rather with the context established by the (weakly) imperative tone of "shall". This becomes clearer when we replace "shall" with "should". It would more difficult to misconstrue how many references to remove when you are told you should remove any. Stating that one "shall" remove any is a bit murkier. Are you telling us that we should? Or are you wagering that we will?

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Even though the implication may be as you stated, we cannot possibly use all or every, only any in the sentence, because there may be none.

To provide for the possibility of there being none, we have to use any in the sentence.

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You can use all, or every. Your reasoning doesn't make sense. – Matt E. Эллен Oct 31 '12 at 15:22
What Matt said. But maybe not so strongly - I agree there can be an implication with "all" that there will be at least one, which is why formal/legal texts are likely to specify "any and all". But I don't think that implies OP "cannot possibly use all or every". In addition to which, consider the magician's "Pick any card", which means "Pick one card". At least if OP uses "all" there's no danger of it being incorrectly interpreted with that sense. – FumbleFingers Oct 31 '12 at 16:07
Things will take time to make any sense to some people. Even patience comes with years. – Kris Nov 1 '12 at 11:39

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