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"They disregard social conventions without being conscious that they are doing anything extraordinary."

Is it also fine(or more appropriate) to replace "anything" with "something" in the sentence above.?

Whole paragraph: True eccentrics never deliberately set out todraw attention to themselves. They disregard social conventions without being conscious that they are doing anything extraordinary. This invariably wins them the love and respect of others, for they add colour to the dull routine of everyday life.

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    something would indicate singular. That might be appropriate if you were talking about eccentricity as a whole but you are countering social conventions (plural). anything covers a wider spectrum of individual eccentricities which counter multiple social conventions. – user150753 Oct 20 '19 at 5:28
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Any and its extensions anything, anywhere, anyone, etc. is a negative polarity item. In other words it is more usual in negations than its some (something etc.) equivalent. For example:

  • I don't have any money. (?I don't have some money.)
  • I don't have anything to wear. (?I don't have something to wear.)
  • I don't know anyone who thinks that. (?I don't know someone who thinks that.)

The sentence They disregard social conventions without being conscious that they are doing anything extraordinary is a far less clear-cut example of negation. But negative polarity is present in the word without. The sentence could be rephrased:

They disregard social conventions and are not conscious that they are doing anything extraordinary.

This explains the use of anything in the original sentence. Nevertheless, something is also fine in this context - albeit with, for me, a different connotation.

In the original version, the writer is simply saying that eccentrics don't think they are doing anything extraordinary. I get no sense of whether the writer thinks they are or are not doing anything extraordinary.

The version with something (They disregard social conventions without being conscious that they are doing something extraordinary) can be interpreted that the writer does believe they they are doing the extraordinary.

Such an interpretation is given some support by the sentence that follows:

This invariably wins them the love and respect of others, for they add colour to the dull routine of everyday life.

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  • I don't think this is a negative polarity issue. With any buried deep in a PP like it is, I think it can be just the regular any. And the negative polarity trigger would be disregard, wouldn't it? I can say "without some more info, ..." – Phil Sweet Oct 20 '19 at 13:03
  • @Phil Sweet. The Wikipedia article on the issue discusses the various contexts that 'license' negative or positive polarity items. As well as the obvious not in my examples above, the contexts include "negative conjunctions (without)". You may be right that the more important trigger here is disregard, but in either case, we do seem to be dealing negative polarity. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polarity_item – Shoe Oct 20 '19 at 14:16
  • @Shoe Sorry to bother again, but in conclusion, do you mean it is better to use something, as it is support by the sentence that follows: This invariably wins them the love and respect of others, for they add colour to the dull routine of everyday life. – Robby zhu Dec 23 '19 at 8:42

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