Friday, December 21, 2007

"Some" or "Any" in questions

Dear all,

Giacomo of Level Four has this question:

1. Have you some pans in your house?
2. Have you any pans in your house?

What's the difference?

Answer:

Both are legitimate questions but there is a slight difference in meaning.

2. Have you any pans in your house?
This is a straight open question in which the questioner is simply asking for information.

1. Have you some pans in your house?
This question is probably part of a longer conversation. For example, the speaker might be saying, "Let's organise dinner at your place. We can cook "spaghetti alla carbonara". But before I forget, we'll need at least two pans. Have you some pans in your house?"

The questioner is hoping that the answer will be "yes". So no. 2 is part of an established context.

Tip: go to the
Virtual Language Centre Concordancer and find all instances of "some" in a question. What do they have in common? Is there a rule you can extrapolate?

A couple of examples from the VLC:

"Should the Privileges and Members' Interests Committees have some outsiders on them?"
"some" in the sense of "a few".

"What is Stuart Hall on, and can we all have some?"

"some" of whatever magic potion Stuart Hall (a footballer) is "on", in other words taking.

One of the rules is that if you use "some" in a question you are concentrating on a small, specific number or quantity. With "any" it's completely open. Consider this:

"Would somebody like to come with me?" (just one person)

"Would anybody like to come with me"? (could be more than one.)

I hope this helps.

Please do leave your comment - especially now that it is much easier.

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