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Any seems synonymous with some in some examples, such as "Is anyone home?". And any seems synonymous with every in some examples below, and definitely not in others.

On the internet I encountered a German who asked me what the difference is between "some" and "any". I didn't have a really good answer. What I have after thinking about it further is only a bunch of examples (see below). How might one best explain "any" to a foreigner learning English?

  • Any six-year-old can do that
  • Every six-year-old can do that

  • The answer to that question can be found in any book on geology.

  • The answer to that question can be found in every book on geology.

These are more-or-less synonymous. So any might appear to mean the same thing as every.

If any member is absent, the meeting will be canceled.
If some member is absent, the meeting will be canceled.

In this pair of sentences, any is more akin to some than to every.

"Does anyone believe that?" This is somewhat like "Is there someone who believes that?". It certainly doesn't mean every. Similarly "Is anyone home?".

There was never any doubt about that.

I suspect not any, never any, and any number of negative words seem to play a role that must be included in the account of the use of any. (And that means it must be included in every such account— another instance of any appearing to mean every.)

  • She can order anything on the menu.
  • She can order everything on the menu.
  • She can order something on the menu.

and

  • You can cash this check at any bank.
  • You can cash this check at every bank.
  • You can cash this check at some bank.

In these cases, any, every, and some have three quite distinct meanings.

  • You cannot cash this check at any bank.
  • You cannot cash this check at every bank.

The first of these examples is like the "never any doubt" above.

"Anyone can do that" might mean "Everyone can do that" but "Can anyone do that?" means "Can someone do that?".

  • Any remembered instance of the old custom is mistaken for a monstrous accident.
  • Every remembered instance of the old custom is mistaken for a monstrous accident.

The first sentence above is quoted from a book by C. S. Lewis. Any remembered instance seems to imply (among other things) that he's being deliberately non-committal about whether there even is any remembered instance.

  • Does anyone know a good mechanic?
  • Does everyone know a good mechanic?
  • Does someone know a good mechanic?

It could be anywhere.
It could be everywhere.

He arrived 30 minutes earlier than any other guest.
He arrived 30 minutes earlier than every other guest.
He arrived 30 minutes earlier than some other guest.

If any citizen so wishes, the council will make that information available.
If every citizen so wishes, the council will make that information available.

I will vote for any candidate who opposes the incumbent.
I will vote for every candidate who opposes the incumbent.
I will vote for some candidate who opposes the incumbent.

How to convince anybody of anything.
How to convince everybody of everything.
How to convince somebody of something.

This is worse than anything that could happen.
This is worse than everything that could happen.
This is worse than something that could happen.

Such an affront would make an enemy of anyone.
Such an affront would make an enemy of everyone.
Such an affront would make an enemy of someone.

If you find anyone who knows the answer to that question, let me know.
If you find everyone who knows the answer to that question, let me know.
If you find someone who knows the answer to that question, let me know.

Learn any language in two weeks!
Learn every language in two weeks!
Learn some language in two weeks!

The government wants the power to shut down any web site.
The government wants the power to shut down every web site.
The government wants the power to shut down some web site.

  1. A Wikipedian is any person who edits Wikipedia.
  2. A Wikipedian is every person who edits Wikipedia.
  3. Any person who edits Wikipedia is a Wikipedian.
  4. Every person who edits Wikipedia is a Wikipedian.

Notice the distinct difference in meaning between sentences 2 and 4 above: the second one is nonsense; the fourth is true.

closed as off-topic by RyeɃreḁd, user66974, tchrist, aedia λ, Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jun 2 '14 at 20:50

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  • Can someone explain why this question was down-voted? – Michael Hardy Jun 2 '14 at 2:56
  • Take an uncommented downvote to mean This question does not show any research effort, it is unclear or not useful, like it says on the downvote button and then add on and I can't bothered to help the questioner improve it. (wasn't me, in fact I'm just about to upvote it because I think it is quite interesting) – Frank Jun 2 '14 at 6:39
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    Personally, I think you have included far too many examples. I would select the ones that for you are most relevant and unequivocally illustrate your case. – Mari-Lou A Jun 2 '14 at 8:55
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Tell him that "any" is mainly used with a negative verb or in questions, "some" is for positive sentences where they can be reversed into a question using "any", and "every" is pretty much "every"thing else.

That might be confusing, but going into extreme detail will confuse him more. Any time you're talking to someone a bit less experienced than you are, it's helpful to overgeneralize everything in order to make sure at least some information makes it through.

  • This answer seems to ignore many of my examples. If I say "Anyone can understand this", it's not negative or interrogative. – Michael Hardy Jun 2 '14 at 2:52
  • But you can't make a rule in English without a billion exceptions. – Jamie Jun 2 '14 at 2:55
  • I don't think these are just exceptions. They're far to big a part of the picture for that. – Michael Hardy Jun 2 '14 at 2:56
  • "I before e" has a lot of big exceptions too. Diving too deep into an explanation wouldn't be beneficial to someone who's just now learning the language. – Jamie Jun 2 '14 at 3:00
  • But I don't think these are exceptions. I think they also obey a rule. But it's a different rule. – Michael Hardy Jun 2 '14 at 3:15
2

Rather than worrying about when they are synonymous and when not, why not focus on what they actually mean?

Every refers to all members of the class.

Some refers to a subset of the members of the class (at least one, but not all). (If the noun is singular, as in your last example, "some website", it refers to a subset with only one member. Someone and somebody are singular.)

Any refers to any specific member of the class, selected at random.


The usage of the compound words formed from these follow from the above. For example:

Since Everyone refers to all members of the class, it refers to all members of the class--it is used with a singular verb but all members of the class are in view.

Someone only refers to one individual. There may be multiple individuals that satisfy the criteria, but only one is needed.

Depending on context, Anyone may be satisfied by a single individual or by as many as meet the criteria. Its range of meaning is bounded by that of someone (a single member) and everyone (all members). Depending on context it could be equivalent to either:

"Bring me anyone in the audience wearing a red tie." is the same as: "Bring me everyone in the audience wearing a red tie." (In either case, all members of the audience wearing a red tie would be brought to him.)

But: "Does anyone know a good mechanic?" means the same as: "Does someone know a good mechanic?" (Only one person need respond to meet the speakers' needs.)

And again: "If any citizen so wishes, the council will make that information available." is different from: "If every citizen so wishes, the council will make that information available." In the former case, any random member of the class of citizen may request the information. In the latter, every member must make the request before the information is made available.

  • "Bring me anyone in the audience wearing a red tie." is not the same as "Bring me everyone in the audience wearing a red tie." The former means, find one person who satisfies the criteria, and bring that that person to me. The latter means "Bring all people who meet this criteria" – McKay Jun 2 '14 at 13:05
  • But I do like the approach mentioned before the break. – McKay Jun 2 '14 at 13:06
  • That's why I included the break. Everything after that gets a bit rambly. I do not believe it's actually possible to determine, without context, what the first of those sentences means (despite my assurances above). It could mean bring anyone that meets those criteria (i.e. everyone found), or it could mean just bring one person. It depends what is actually being asked for: A single volunteer, everyone that violated dress code with their flashy red ties, etc. – Wlerin Jun 3 '14 at 8:11
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Any is a Negative Polarity Item, and thus requires a negative context.
Some is not an NPI, and quite often some and any in complementary distribution

  • I know he bought some, but he doesn't have any left.

However, some constructions, like questions, allow either some or any.

  • Did he eat any breakfast?
  • Did he eat some breakfast?

Both of these questions are grammatical, and anyone who'd like to explain their difference --
if any -- in precise terms which apply to any sentence (not just this one) is welcome to try.
My impression is that there's no systematic difference in meaning.

For more details, see Robin Lakoff's 1969 paper

"Some Reasons Why There Can't Be Any some-any Rule"

  • It appears that this particular way of using "any" requires a negative context, and "not any" means "none", "There's never anybody who knows the answer" means it's always the case that nobody knows, etc. But the way in which you use any when you say "terms which apply to any sentence" appears to me to be quite another matter. – Michael Hardy Jun 2 '14 at 2:34
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    That's the "free-choice" any, which has different syntax and normally requires a "possible" modal: Anybody can do that vs *Anybody did that. This is often called "Possible-Polarity any". For further discussion, see Zeno Vendler's "Each and Every, Any and All". (Oh, btw, Robin Lakoff's paper is "her paper".) – John Lawler Jun 2 '14 at 2:49
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    Apologies to Robin Lakoff. I've encountered both male and female Robins. – Michael Hardy Jun 2 '14 at 2:54
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    First, negative polarity any is usually unstressed. In I don't like some Bob Marley songs, if you mean there are only a few, then some will be stressed, and you can move it out of the negative scope (There are some Bob Marley songs I don't like), in which case you don't have to stress some. Negative polarity any can't be moved out of the negative scope: There are any Bob Marley songs I don't like is ungrammatical. Some isn't negative polarity, which means it can occur inside or outside a negative scope -- it's not affected; it's any that's the NPI. – John Lawler Jun 2 '14 at 13:46
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    @Araucaria: The first one is a "free-choice" sense of any that can occur with modals instead of negatives: Pick any one you want, Anybody can do that, That's a good boat for anybody. The second one is negative; lost means 'don't have any more'. Try it with find: *You've found any chance you had of winning the competition. – John Lawler Oct 8 '14 at 2:38

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