"Is there any notebook on the desk?" "There isn't any notebook on the desk."

I read these sentences in a worksheet made by someone whose native language isn't English.

Are these sentences grammatically correct?

Because I thought any is used with aren't and are "Are there any notebooks on the desk?" "There aren't any notebooks on the desk."

  • 'Notebook' is a countable noun. So... "Are there any notebooks on the desk? "There aren't any...". If the item being sought was uncountable (e.g. sugar) then "...isn't any..." would be used.
    – Dan
    Dec 7, 2016 at 22:54
  • 1
    @Dan But it is still perfectly correct to say something like I was told there was a red notebook and a blue notebook on the desk, but there isn't any notebook on the desk.
    – WS2
    Dec 8, 2016 at 0:15
  • There are two kinds of "any": (1) "non-affirmative any" which is restricted to non-affirmative contexts, e.g. "There isn't any sugar in the cupboard; "Is there any sugar in the cupboard?", but not "There is any sugar in the cupboard" ("some" is required instead). And (2) "free choice any" as in "Any good teacher would know that".
    – BillJ
    Dec 8, 2016 at 9:06
  • @WS2 - agreed. I nearly made a longer answer ("...depends on the context..." - as per the answer below) but decided against because the OP question seems to be asking a more general question. My bad !
    – Dan
    Dec 8, 2016 at 11:43

1 Answer 1


The two sentences do go together, and are grammatical, but they would only occur in the particular circumstance of persistent enquiry.

Get a couple of notebooks from the pile on desk.
— There isn't a pile of books.
OK, just grab two notebooks.
— I can't see two notebooks.
Is there any notebook on the desk?
— No, there isn't any notebook. There are only sandwiches.

To find a context where "Is there any notebook on the desk?" and "There isn't any notebook" both work is not easy and ends up being quite contrived.

If the sentences are supposed to stand alone, as a spontaneous enquiry and its answer, then we wouldn't normally use any:

Is there a notebook on the desk? Can you get it for me?
— No, there's no notebook.

Any as a determiner usually indicates more than one object:

Are there any notebooks on the desk? I need one.
— No, there aren't any.

  • It would be possible to substitute "even one" in the first example, and in the very last, "No, there isn't even one".
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 8, 2016 at 11:51
  • 'Contrived' is the word! (+1 for example). Would you agree that, in this context, 'any' has the sense of 'even one'? In your example, the final two lines would read "Isn't there any (i.e. even one) notebook on the desk?" "No there isn't (even one). There are only sandwiches."
    – Dan
    Dec 8, 2016 at 11:52

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