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I was reading these questions and I noticed that in one of them, "any" is used with a singular countable noun. And in the other one "any" is used with a plural countable noun.

I wanted to know why that is ?

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    You should add links to the questions you're referring to. Commented Apr 3, 2021 at 21:23
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    Can you give any examples?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 3, 2021 at 21:32

2 Answers 2

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It depends which kind of any you are talking about.

The more common any is a negative polarity equivalent of some. Like some, it is used with a plural or an uncountable:

I have some books, some wine.

Do you have any books, any wine?

But we would not normally say

? I have some book.

or

? Do you have any book?

But there is a second use of any which is not a negative polarity item, and is used with countables, singular or plural; it means something like I don't care which.

You can choose any book / any books.

If you use it with an uncountable, it will be like using "a" with the uncountable, and designate a kind or sort:

You can choose any wine.

means "any kind of wine".

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    The second "free choice" any isn't a Negative Polarity Item, but it is a Possible Polarity Item. I.e, it must be in the scope of a diamond/possible-category modal, like may or can. None of those 2nd-type any's are grammatical without the modal; e.g *He chose any book there. That could be grammatical if it referred to a repeated choice, as in a stage trick (with an implied would modal), but not if it referred to one event of choosing a book. Commented Apr 3, 2021 at 23:24
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    Thanks for that clarification @JohnLawler: I wasn't aware of that category of polarity, but it makes a lot of sense.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 4, 2021 at 11:26
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    Negatives, quantifiers, and modals all have "fields" or "scopes", and "bind" or "license" some other constituent in the utterance. They're Operators, and have logical superpowers. Plus, they practically ooze ambiguity. Commented Apr 4, 2021 at 14:32
  • Leaving aside the free choice sense of "any", it is a polarity-sensitive determinative having a negative orientation, cf. "We haven't got any milk", but not *"We have got any milk". The free choice "any", as in "Any policeman will be able to tell you" is not of course polarity-sensitive.
    – BillJ
    Commented Apr 4, 2021 at 17:29
  • @JohnLawler Suppose I say He just selected any book on the shelf that appeared suitable. There is no modal, and it is a single event.
    – WS2
    Commented Apr 4, 2021 at 19:22
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From § 2.54, CoGEL, "any", as a determiner, is used in the so-called non-assertive grammatical contexts. It can be found at § 5.14, Type (b) (ii) that it is the non-assertive central determiner of plural count nouns and noncount nouns (of a type called called quantifiers, § 5.23). Therefore, it is not considered acceptable to use it with singular count nouns. The meaning of any in this case is the counterpart of "some" (unstressed "some", which should be /səm/. In this context "any" is not stressed either.

Count

  • They had some marbles in their pockets.
  • Did they have any marbles in their pockets?

Noncount

  • He drinks some soda with his meals.
  • Does he drink any soda with his meals?
  • Doesn't he drink any soda with his meals?

However, from § 6.61 we see that "any" occurs with a different meaning in assertive territory. This meaning is "it doesn't matter which/what/who". While the word is still a determiner, it is not now a quantifier and it is stressed.

Examples from CoGEL

  • He will eat any kind of vegetable.
  • Any dog might bite a child if teased.
  • Any offer would be better than this.

This does not mean that it does not occur with this meaning in non-assertive territory.

  • Did he tell you to read any book on the subject? No, not any, but only that one which has been recommended by the teacher. (user LPH's example)

This is the explanation for the occurrence of both plural and singular.

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