4

Given the following question, in the context of a poll or vote:

Should any employee of Company X be allowed to assume absolute authority in any project with Company X's name associated?

Under the rules of English, are both of these interpretations valid, therefore making the question ambiguous?


Interpretation #1

"Should any employee of Company X (without restriction; meaning, regardless of their standing in the Company and the amount of support they've received) be allowed to assume absolute authority in any project (without restriction; meaning, any project they wish to embark upon, with or without informing anyone or getting anyone's buy-in) with Company X's name associated?"

Under Interpretation #1, someone would only respond by voting "Yes" if they felt that replacing the word any with every in the original question would be perfectly acceptable. If they could think of just one situation where this would be unacceptable, they'd have to vote "No."


Interpretation #2

"Should any employee of Company X (ever) be allowed to assume absolute authority in any project (whatsoever) with Company X's name associated?"

Or -- perhaps more clearly --

"Are there any circumstances or conditions under which a Company X employee embarking upon a certain project would be allowed to assume absolute authority over the project with Company X's name associated with it?"

Under Interpretation #2, someone would only vote "No" if they felt that no justification can exist for allowing an employee to have this absolute authority on a project with Company X's name associated. If they felt that some conditions would make it acceptable, then they'd have to vote "Yes".


Q: Are both of these interpretations valid? If not, which one(s) are incorrect?

  • 2
    Both are possible and the question is inherently ambiguous. More is needed, especially if the available responses are dichotomous. – bib Mar 9 '16 at 22:39
  • Yes, I should have clarified that the available responses are literally "Yes" and "No" (no room for explanation or qualification). The only other option is to refuse to respond. – allquixotic Mar 10 '16 at 0:38
  • My two-cents on my first read, would be for interpretation #1. I agree with bib that both interpretations are possible. You would probably want to phrase your question differently if you want to eliminate the ambiguity (as you already did with #2). – Skooba Mar 16 '16 at 19:48
  • #2 is the more natural reading (interpreting any as at least one). #1 (interpreting any as every) is possible if any is stressed heavily. You can also get #1 if you replace the plain any with absolutely any. – Lawrence May 22 '16 at 8:55
1

The question

Should any employee of Company X be allowed to assume absolute authority in any project with Company X's name associated?

does indeed permits at least two very different readings. To simplify the analysis, let's consider a similar question that uses any just once:

Should any employee of Company X have the authority to turn off the lights when he or she is the last person to leave the building?

There are two possible ways to read this question. The first is to read it as asking whether every employee should have the authority to turn off the lights if he or she happens to be the last person to leave the building. In short, any = every. The implied alternative answers in this case would be

Yes, every employee of Company X should have the authority to turn off the lights when he or she is the last person to leave the building.

and

No, only certain designated employees of Company X should have the authority to turn off the lights when they are the last person to leave the building.

The second ways to read this question is as asking whether a particular designated employee should have the authority to turn off the lights. In short, any = even one. The implied alternative answers in this case would be

Yes, a particular designated employee of Company X should have the authority to turn off the lights when he or she is the last person to leave the building.

and

No, no employee of Company X should have the authority to turn off the lights when he or she is the last person to leave the building.

In the poster's original example, readers face the same interpretative choice between any as "every" and any as "even one." To avoid the ambiguity, you would have to reframe the question in a way that clarified which sense of any you intended. For example, you might say

Should every employee of Company X be allowed to assume absolute authority over a project that has Company X's name associated with it?

if you had any = every in mind, or you might say

Should no employee of Company X be allowed to assume absolute authority over a project that has Company X's name associated with it?

if you had any = even one in mind.

1

The following are three propositions but reworded slightly different. The first proposition is the OP's one

  1. Should any (whoever) employee of Company X be allowed to assume absolute authority in any (whatsoever) project with Company X's name associated?

In other words, does it matter who has the authority in a project, as long as the person is an employee of Company X, and the project is connected to the company's name?

— Somebody voting "yes" agrees there should be no constriction other than those previously mentioned.

  1. Should an employee (specific) of Company X be allowed to assume absolute authority in any (whatsoever) project with Company X's name associated?

Is it permissible for an employee of Company X to assume authority in any single project, as long as that project is connected with the company's name on it?

— A person voting "yes" agrees that an employee should be given the opportunity to take charge in a project that has the company's name connected to it.

  1. Should an employee (specific) of Company X be allowed to assume absolute authority in a project (specific) with Company X's name associated?

Could an employee (under special circumstances) be given the opportunity to take charge in a project, if that project is connected with Company X's name?

— A person voting "yes" agrees there may be instances when this authority may be granted to an individual employee.

0

Three more possibilities can be added:

Should an employee of Company X be allowed to assume absolute authority in any project with Company X's name associated?

Should an employee of Company X be allowed to assume absolute authority in a project with Company X's name associated?

Should any employee of Company X be allowed to assume absolute authority in a project with Company X's name associated?

For interpretation #2, the second option above is more suitable.

For interpretation #1, there are two sub-interpretations 1) if someone is an employ then (if the person wishes) allow .. (same as 'everyone is allowed') -- if yes, then let anyone take it up! 2) By asking the question, one is trying to find out if there is one particular (any) employee who can be allowed.. if yes, then pick that one!

0

Your wording very strongly suggests;

for any employee, e, and any project, p, e may assume absolute responsibility for p.

If you mean anything else you should reword it.

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