Any: Singular and plural nouns
The use of any in front
of a singular noun talks about EACH thing or person of a particular
type. The use of any in front of a plural noun talks about ALL
things or people of a particular type.
What does it exactly mean? Is it correct to use the plural noun in the
following sentence "If you have any problems please let me know," to
mean any problems, whether one or two or more? The speaker is not thinking
of any particular single problem, but problems as a whole. Or in the
sentence, "Do you have any pen?," it means any single pen can do. Should
we say "any questions"?
Posted 24 February 2003
In your sentence, "If you have
any problems, please let me know," any means one possibility
among an infinite number of problems. As you say, the speaker is not
thinking of a particular problem, but of one or another, or perhaps
more than one. The concept of "each" singular noun contrasted with "all"
plural nouns is not relevant here -
any can refer to one or to all, to several or to some
part of. It can also refer in general to all the members of a class
or a group. The general meaning of any, according to Michael
Swan (Practical English Usage, Oxford University Press, 1995)
Any is a determiner. It generally suggests an indefinite amount
or number, and is used when it is not important to say how much/ how
many we are thinking of. Because of its "open," non-specific
meaning, any is often used in questions and negative clauses
and in other cases where there is an idea of doubt or negation (p. 48).
The sentence, "Do you have any pen?" is not native. Any,
as you know, is often used in questions and in negative sentences, but
usually with plural count nouns or with noncount nouns:
Do you have any children?
When any appears with a singular noun, it can appear in an affirmative
sentence, as described here by Swan (p. 50):
Are there any penguins at the North Pole?
Do you have any questions?
We don't have any children.
There aren't any penguins at the North Pole.
I don't have any questions.
Any can be used to
emphasise the idea of free choice, with the meaning of "it doesn't matter
who/which/what." With this meaning, any is common in affirmative
clauses as well as questions and negatives, and is often used with singular
countable nouns as well as uncountables and plurals. In speech it is
Ask any doctor -
they'll all tell you that alcohol is a poison.
She goes out with any boy who asks her.
"When shall I come?" "Any time."
Can I get a meal here at any time of the day?
I don't do just any work -
I choose the jobs that interest me.
Swan also says (p. 49):
Any is very often used
with uncountable and plural nouns. It can have the same kind of meaning
as the indefinite article a/an has with singular countable nouns:
I haven't got a car, and I haven't got any money
to buy one. Is there a tin-opener
in the house? And are there any plates?
With this meaning, any is
unusual with singular countable nouns.
She hasn't got a job. (NOT: She hasn't got any job.)
Do you know a good doctor? (NOT: Do you know any good
With this explanation, you can see that your sentence, "Do
you have any pen?" should be, instead:
Do you have a pen?
Your sentence: "Do you have any questions?" is
To read a related message, see Any
+ singular or plural noun?