I always thought with "any" I should use the plural, but on the internet I can find both:

  • It can be found in any book.

  • It can be found in any books

  • Do you have any books?

  • It can be said in any language.

  • This can be understood by anyone.

  • It has been used in any form.

So, what's correct? Is there any rule?

  • 2
    I’m afraid I don’t have any idea what you are asking.
    – tchrist
    Jun 16 '13 at 14:07
  • I think what the OP is asking is: when do you use the plural with any and when do you use the singular? We say "any hardware store will sell you one", and not *"any hardware stores will sell you one". But we also say "are any hardware stores open on Sunday?" and not *"is any hardware store open on Sunday?" Jun 16 '13 at 14:12
  • To forestall comments, "is any hardware store open on Sunday?" is perfectly fine as a rhetorical question, but I would use "are any hardware stores ..." if I was asking where to buy some tool. Looking at these examples, I am fairly sure that I can tell whether to use the plural and singular for any specific sentence, but I have no idea how to codify this as a rule. Jun 16 '13 at 14:20
  • 2
    tchrist? ironic? never! Jun 16 '13 at 17:38
  • 4
    There's two kinds of any -- Negative Polarity any, which requires a negative context (of which questions are one), and is the any in Do you have any books? -- and Possible Polarity any, which requires a possibility modal, and is the any in all the other sentences. They behave differently; Neg any can alternate with some in affirmative contexts, but Modal any is effectively equivalent to all, for instance. Oh, and the last sentence is ungrammatical -- no neg, no modal. Jun 16 '13 at 17:48

Before you can choose whether to use a singular or plural noun with any, you need to know which of the various functions and meanings it has in the context in which you are using it. In each of your affirmative sentences any is equivalent to every.

It can be found in any / every book.

This can be understood by anyone / everyone.

It can be said in any / every language.

For this reason, the following does not work:

? It can be found in any / every books.

In the interrogative sentences any does not mean every. In fact it does not really have a meaning at all and could be omitted:

Do you have books?

Is there a rule?

As to whether the singular or plural should be used with uncount nouns, the plural is more common:

Do you have any children? - ? Do you have any child?

Do you have any books? - ? Do you have any book?

But if you are expecting there to be only one of the thing in question, the singular may be used. In other words:

Is there any rule?

may be said in expectation that there will be only one rule.

  • In the penultimate section, you state "the plural is more common" (with which I agree), but then illustrate it by using the singular in your examples, which I find confusing. And what is the "?" at the front of the line meant to indicate?
    – TrevorD
    Jun 16 '13 at 15:53
  • @TrevorD. Thanks. Edited to include the more common examples. The question mark at the beginning of a sentence is a convention to show that the sentence is questionable! An asterisk in the same place denotes an error.
    – Shoe
    Jun 16 '13 at 15:58
  • 1
    Thanks. When you mention use of the "?" as "a convention", do you mean a convention on SE or what? It's (obviously) not a convention I've ever come across. As regards the actual answer, to me, Do you have any child/book? seems plainly wrong - not merely questionable. I would say Do you have a child/book? if I were using the singular.
    – TrevorD
    Jun 16 '13 at 16:04
  • A question mark at the beginning of sentence is the convention used in The Cambridge Grammar Of The Language to indicate constructions 'of questionable grammaticality'. I'm not sure about Do you have any book? It doesn't fall into the same category as what the CGEL denotes *ungrammatical. Their example is, coincidently, *This books is mine.
    – Shoe
    Jun 16 '13 at 16:47
  • @ Shoe: As usual, context is everything! I doubt many people would seriously object to, for example, "Do you have any book that might shed some light on this question?". The speaker probably expects there will be no such books, and at best he's only expecting there might be one, so asking for plural books could seem a bit "presumptuous". Jun 16 '13 at 17:04

Italian speakers are often confused by the different uses of "any" and its different meanings.

Any is usually defined as being an adjective, an adverb, a pronoun, a determiner and until today I was unaware of a further subclass: a numeral

Many words of different parts of speech indicate number or quantity. Quantifiers do not enumerate, or designate a specific number, but give another, often less specific, indication of amount. Examples are words such as every, most, least, some, etc.

Hence, "any" has a similar meaning to "a" and is normally used with uncountable and plural nouns.

  1. (a) Do you have any books? (plural noun)
    (b) I haven't got any books.
  2. (a) Do you have a book? (singular noun)
    (b) I haven't got a book
  3. (a) Do you need any information? (uncountable noun)
    (b) I haven't got any information.
  4. (a) *Do you need a information? NO
    (b) *I haven't got a information. NO

Examples and explanations taken (and adapted) from Practical English Usage by Michael Swan:
"Any" meanings and uses

  1. It doesn't matter which

    • It's my treat. Choose any dress you like. [Choose a/one dress]
    • Take any card. [Take a/one card]
    • Any book on grammar will tell you how to use "any". [Any one book = every book on grammar]
  2. In questions and negative sentences "any" can be used with comparatives, with "different" and in the expressions any/good, any/use, and any/point.

    • Is she any better?
    • I can't walk any further
    • You don't look any different now than ten years ago.
    • Is there any point in carrying on?
    • Was the film any good?
  3. In sentences with negative adverbs such as never, hardly and rarely

    • He never has any spare time
    • She hardly eats anything
    • They rarely visit anyone

As a result the OP's phrases:

It can be found in any book
It can be said in any language
This can be understood by anyone (i.e. any person)

mean it doesn't matter which book/language/person, because every book/language/person has this quality or ability.

  • If you use an indefinite article with "information" (which of course you shouldn't do at all), you should use "an information". May 3 '17 at 11:46

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