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As a non-native speaker, when I read the books about grammar, I learn that usually the word "everything" is used in a positive sentence and that the word "anything"is used in a negative or interrogative sentence. But I often see sentences in some magazines and articles like:

  • We'll do almost anything for our beloved animals.

What's the difference between them, and is it changing the meaning in sentence?

closed as off-topic by Kris, oerkelens, RyeɃreḁd, tchrist, FumbleFingers Apr 21 '14 at 17:24

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    Suggesting migrating the question to English Language Learners – Kris Apr 17 '14 at 6:21
  • That is an interesting question, involving NPI's, but you've been a member for a day and you've asked 5 questions. . . . -- I'll try to write a quick answer. :) – F.E. Apr 17 '14 at 7:15
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  • We'll do almost anything for our beloved animals.

The class of NPIs (Negatively-oriented Polarity-sensitive Items) includes the any class of items: any, anybody, any longer, any more (AmE anymore), anyone, anything, anywhere.

And you seem to already understand a bit on how NPIs work, in that NPIs are restricted to non-affirmative contexts (where an affirmative context is a declarative main clause in a positive environment).

But some of the items also have a "free choice sense", and so, they can occur in an affirmative context (where a NPI can't).

For example:

  • 1.) She didn't make any changes. -- (NPI sense)

  • 2.) Any changes must be approved by the board. -- ("free choice sense")

Your example of "We'll do almost anything for our beloved animals" seems to be using the "free choice sense" of anything. And that is why your example is grammatical.

Examples and info were borrowed from the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL), pages 822-3.

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We'll do anything - you don't know what you're going to do yet, and for sure you won't do everything (which is impossible), but you'll do whatever is required - there is nothing that you would not be prepared to do.

We'll do everything - not possible, there are an infinite number of things which you could do, and you can't do them all.

Everything is not always positive in meaning, but it means everything. Anything is in arbitrary subset of everything.

In the negative sense, "we can't do everything" means it's not possible to do all things, but you can still do something. "We can't do anything" means that there is nothing at all that can be done.

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