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I understand that any has negative connotations, as can be seen in the above link, but I need to say that there are no pages in a book. I've come up with the following sentence:

That book does not have any pages.

Is this a correct way to say that there are no pages in that book? It seems to be a double negation, with does not and any, so that would seem to mean that the book does have pages. Should I use a different word to any?

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    How is any a negative?
    – Robusto
    Dec 20, 2012 at 15:18

1 Answer 1

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That isn't double-negation, that's single negation. Double-negation would be this:

That book does not have no pages.

Sentences like the above are correct in many languages and are used in many non-standard forms of English, but are not correct in standard English.

You may be confused by the word any, which is a negative polarity item. The word any is not itself a negative, but it is required in place of no or some when the main verb is negative.

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  • You are right, 'any' confused me. I thought 'any' itself is negative and I cannot mix it with "doesn't/don't"...
    – Semyazz
    Dec 20, 2012 at 13:13
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    Surely this would be correct in standard English if one means that the book has pages.
    – Jez
    Dec 20, 2012 at 13:19
  • @Jez It would be formally and logically correct, but its use would require strong vocal or typographic emphasis on no. It is not a natural way of asserting that a book has some pages. Dec 20, 2012 at 13:48
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    @Jez There's correct and there's correct, even in Standard English. Correctness depends on register and discourse context. If you are denying a previously asserted lack of pages, it could be correct. In some contexts, as Justin ᚅᚔᚈᚄᚒᚔ points out, this sentence would mean the exact opposite of what you look for it to mean. In others it would be unnatural and unidiomatic, which are also components of correctness. Dec 20, 2012 at 16:25
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    I hadn't heard the term "negative polarity item"; it's interesting. I think it may be worth noting that "any" has some senses in which it only works in the negative, and other senses in which it works in the positive but has different meaning: "He'll eat any kind of fish" [he'll eat all kinds], "He won't eat any kind of fish" [there's no kind he'll eat], "He'll eat just about any kind of fish" [a positive-only formulation; essentially all kinds], "He won't eat just any kind of fish" [a negative-only formulation; he'll eat some kinds--possibly many--but not all].
    – supercat
    Feb 15, 2014 at 4:43

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