7

Consider the following sentences:

  1. Would you like any more soup?
  2. Would you like some more soup?

To my ears, they seem slightly different. If I'm a waiter and want to know whether to collect a client's soup bowl, I would ask the first. However, if I am simply going around the table offering soup with no plan to remove the bowl, I would use the second.

Am I imagining this or is there actually a slight difference in meaning between the two sentences? And, if so, how can we define it?

  • 5
    Since any is a Negative Polarity Item, and questions are negative environments, either one is OK in a question. Some people claim to detect some difference between the two, but rarely the same distinction. I.e, you you can use it to signal something if you want to, but others may use it to signal something completely different. YMMV. – John Lawler Nov 14 '16 at 18:22
  • @JohnLawler ah, so essentially, I am imagining it. – terdon Nov 14 '16 at 19:42
13

The difference is usually interpreted thus. The word some is normally used in neutral sentences, whereas any is often used in negative sentences. This becomes clear in the following examples:

She gave him any more soup. [any not expected in a basic statement]

She didn't give him any more soup. [any expected in a negative statement]

She gave him some more soup. [some expected in a positive statement]

?She didn't give him some more soup. [some not expected in a positive statement; this only works in special circumstances, like echo statements or contrastive focus:]

I hear she gave him some more soup. — Ah, but she didn't give him some more soup: she practically forced the entire pan down his throat!

In a question, any is often connected with a negative expectation: an answer like "no" seems likely or at least very well possible to the asker.

So in this case you're indicating to your customers by any that you probably don't expect them to want more soup—or at least you expect this less than if you had used the neutral some. Since it is a waiter's job to seem welcoming and generous (with paid consumptions, but still), when he uses some, he indicates that he will not at all be surprised if you say "yes".

Simplified, this is taught in many schools as follows: a question with some expects "yes" or "no", while a question containing any expects "no".

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    In my mind, I could hear a mother asking her child Would you like any more soup? just to prompt the child to refute the negative no and answer with a more definite yes. But that's a remote scenario, so I'm upvoting both your answer and Lawler's comment. – Færd Nov 14 '16 at 18:30
  • @Færd: Oh, absolutely: there are many layers to any linguistic utterance. There's locution, illocution, etc., and saying the opposite of what you mean, as in irony, is very common... – Cerberus Nov 14 '16 at 18:32
  • Yes, I think that would explain my perception. Is this expectation of a negative answer what John Lawler referred to above as negative polarity? – terdon Nov 14 '16 at 19:45
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    I wholly agree. An expansive host/hostess would normally use some - would you like some more?. It would not sound terribly inviting if one was asked would you like any more. As has been rightly pointed out, it would appear to be inviting the answer no. – WS2 Nov 14 '16 at 19:58
  • @ter: Yes, more or less. But I believe he also includes all questions in "negative polarity". To me, that kind of terminology is a bit confusing and counter-intuitive (for why is a standard question "negative"?); but what he really means is that English questions and negative sentences exhibit some similar syntactic patterns. For instance, the word any is common in both negative sentences and questions, but not in other types of sentences or clauses. Another example is do-support: she likes me [standard] → does she like me? [question]; she doesn't like me [negation]. – Cerberus Nov 14 '16 at 23:24
2

Usually 'any' will be used in negative sentences like 'I don't have any soup' and 'some' is used in positive sentences like 'I have some soup'. When asking a question, we use the word 'any', for example 'Do you have any soup?' but when offering something, asking something, or suggesting something, the word 'some' is used instead of 'any'.

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