A YouTube viewer asked me about some vs. any. It’s one of those topics that seems simple at first, and then certain examples start revealing complexities. Early on, we teach the guideline to use any in questions and in negatives. That helps with simple There isn’t/aren’t any… statements and Do you have any.. questions. But what about this one: Where can I find some stamps? That’s the question the student asked me.
Greenbaum and Quirk refer to the difference between some and any as assertive vs. non-assertive use (124). To be honest, those terms don’t help me as much as a later remark about positive and negative contexts. I interpret that as some is more cup-half-full in nature and any is more cup-half-empty in nature. Yes, there’s still some water left. vs. There’s hardly any water left. The use of hardly reminds us that not isn’t the only word that makes a context negative. Here’s another example: Without any water, my throat grew dry.
I like to emphasize existence. If you think a thing might exist or you know it exists but can’t put a name on it, you use some or any of its compounds (someone, something). Did someone call my name? If there’s no certainty about existence, use any: Did anyone call?
Greenbaum and Quirk further explain that “some is generally specific, though unspecified, while any is nonspecficic” (225). I think a helpful way to explain this to students is that with any it’s not important to be exact: I don’t need any special reason to hug my children. In contrast, some refers to a number or amount that probably could be determined or is known to someone: She must have had some reason to leave so quickly without saying good-bye.
If you’d like to help your students gain confidence with some and any as determiners, please see my Party Planner_handout. I also included use of someone, something, anyone, and anything.
Greenbaum S. and Quirk R. (1995). A student’s grammar of the English language. Essex: Longman Group UK Limited.