The English-Learning and Languages Review HOMEPAGE



A critical examination of the account of

some and any


Cambridge Grammar of English (2006)


Ronald Carter and Michael McCarthy


(The false trail of grammatical categorising 5)


Amorey Gethin




Failure to make the correct distinctions in meaning

Basic muddles about stress

The false association of negative with any and affirmative with some

Misleading conversion of any into a grammatical function



Failure to make the correct distinctions in meaning

When it comes to some and any, Iím afraid the Cambridge Grammar of English (CGE) falls into error as much as anybody. On page 365 the authors write:

Some and any: strong versus weak forms


Some and any each have strong forms, which are stressed, and weak unstressed forms. The weak form of some is pronounced /səm/.

The weak forms indicate an indefinite quantity of something:


Would you like some cheese?


Are there any messages on the answerphone?


Straight away we find the mistake of treating some and any as if they have the same meaning, with the implication that the only difference is between some abstract grammatical functions. Some does indeed indicate indefinite quantity. But any has a totally different meaning. (See also the first section of .)


Basic muddles about stress

The CGE continues:


The strong forms have different meanings. The strong form of some most typically means Ďa certainí or Ďa particularí when used with singular count nouns:


Some child was crying behind me throughout the whole flight and I never slept.


Strong form some contrasts with others, all or enough when used with plural count nouns and with non-count nouns:


[talking of student grants]

Some students get substantial amounts and others get nothing.


The CGE is doubly muddled here.

Firstly, the distinction between stressed some with singular count nouns and stressed some with plural count nouns and non-count nouns is false. The sort of some illustrated by the ďSome childÖĒ example above is used with plural count nouns and non-count nouns as well as singular count nouns.

Some idiots have left their cars blocking the exit, so nobody can get out.

ďWhy do you have to collect your visa in person?Ē ďOh, some bureaucratic nonsense.Ē


This use of some is a rather special one. The CGE has failed to note any of its essential characteristics.

(1) The stress pattern is quite different from that in other uses of some. The noun is always stressed even more heavily than the some. There are varying degrees of stress of some, not just two. Note how, in contrast to ďSome childÖĒ, in ďSome students...Ē the some is stressed more heavily relative to the noun.

(2) This use of some often expresses some degree of anger, annoyance or contempt, or it expresses the idea of sort of, which the CGE itself gives an example of on page 367. (Is there some kind of recorded delivery I could send it by?)

(3) As I have often emphasized elsewhere, it is impossible to describe the meaning of a word properly with other words. But in this case I feel the CGE has clearly got it the wrong way round. Some used in this way surely expresses the indefinite, thevague, rather than Ďa certainí or Ďparticularí? The frequent addition of the phrase or other confirms this, as in one of the CGEís own examples on page 355: He was driving along up there somewhere, to some village or otherÖÖ


Secondly, the idea that stressed some and any have different meanings from unstressed some and any is a fundamental misunderstanding. Apart from the special use I have just described, stress makes no difference to the meanings of either some or any. Like most words, though, they are stressed or unstressed according to the context and the precise meaning required. The CGE itself provides a good example of this (p.366).


Weíve got some bread but not enough for three people.


Where one puts the stress in this sentence depends on the utterance to which it is a response. If this was a question such as Do we have anything to eat? the stress would be on bread, and some would be unstressed /səm/ - some bread; but if the question was Have you got any bread?, the stress would be on some /sʌm/ - some bread. In the same way, if one is commenting on a strike by a railway trade union, one would say, for instance,


Iím sure some of the drivers wonít accept the agreement made with the employers.


if the union consists exclusively of drivers. On the other hand, if the union is a general one for all types of railway worker, one would say


Iím sure some of the drivers wonít accept the agreement made with the employers.


The CGE continues:


Strong form any is used most typically with singular count nouns and with non-count nouns to mean Ďit does not matter whichí:


If you have the warranty, any authorised dealer can get it repaired for you.

Any fruit juice will make you sick if you drink enough of it.


But once again, the position of the stress depends on the context. If oneís interlocutor has doubted the competence of authorised dealers, the stress will be on any; but on authorised dealer if oneís interlocutor is despairing of getting it repaired anywhere. Similarly, the stress will not be on any in a sentence such as:


You can drink as much water as you like, but any fruit juice will make you sick if you drink enough of it.


Further examples:


[Commenting on listening to a talk in a foreign language]:

I didnít understandany jokes / any jokes.

I didnít understand some of the jokes / some of the jokes.


(Notice how the meanings of these last two sentences are completely different.)


I have a nasty feeling somethingís not right / somethingís not right.

I donít need money, but Iíd welcome any advice you could give me.

Paola, Iíd enjoy any meal you cooked for me.


Furthermore, stressed some does not just contrast with others, all or enough. It can contrast with countless words, or with no words at all.


Some campaigners want to reduce the time limit for abortion to twenty weeks, some want to keep it where it is now, and of course some lobbyists want abortion banned altogether.


And finally, the CGE fails to note that some in the phrase some of is always pronounced /sʌm/, even in contexts where some would be unstressed /səm/ if it was used without of Ė and in such contexts the some of some of is not heavily stressed.

ďDíyou still have some (/sʌm/) of that nice white wine?Ē ďIím afraid not. But thereís some (/sʌm/) of the red left / some (/səm/) red left.Ē


The false association of negative with any and affirmative with some

The CGE makes the same old basic mistakes as practically everybody else (pp.366-67).


Weak form some and any and clause types


The use of the weak forms of some and any depends on whether the clause is declarative or interrogative, and whether it is affirmative or negative:


Thereís some milk in the fridge.

(Thereís any milk in the fridge.)

There isnít any milk in the fridge.

(There isnít some milk in the fridge.)

Is there any milk in the fridge?

Is there some milk in the fridge?

Isnít there any milk in the fridge?

Isnít there some milk in the fridge?


In declarative clauses, some occurs with affirmatives but does not occur with negatives. Any occurs with negatives but does not usually occur with affirmatives:


Iíve got some nice French cheese for us.

(Iíve got any nice French cheese for us.)

A: Iíd like some apple juice please.

B: Youíd like some apple juice.

A: Yes.

B: Right.

(Iíd like any apple juice please.)

I donít have any questions.

(I donít have some questions.)

[talking about a recently typed document]

There arenít any glaring errors. I mean Jamieís read through it and he hasnít seen any.

(There arenít some glaring errors. I mean Janieís read through it and he hasnít seen some.)


To begin with, notice how the CGEís authors make the same mistake as practically all grammarians: to demonstrate that one cannot use negatives with some or affirmatives with any, they rely mainly on the verbs have (or have got) and be for their examples. They seem unable to imagine the almost infinite number of other possibilities, or the variety of possibilities with even those particular verbs.


We would enjoy any nice French cheese.

Iíll gobble up any apple juice.

[Checking a list]

I think Iíve got all the answers here, but I donít have some of the questions.

Jamie claims to have read the paper through carefully, and says there are no mistakes, but Iím afraid he hasnít spotted some truly glaring errors.


So some and its compounds are in fact often used in negative declarative clauses:


Somebody hasnít signed.

The doctor hasnít seen somebody Ė heís still sitting disconsolately in the waiting room.

The inspectors havenít checked some of the farms in Wales yet.

Somebody didnít remember to turn the lights off last night.

Bill hasnít washed some of the glasses properly.


And any and its compounds are often used in affirmative declarative clauses (note that the any- words in the following examples could be stressed or unstressed):


Anything would be better than sitting here waiting for something to happen.

Iím so hungry I think Iíll be able to eat any muck they put in front of us.

Any new book of his got glowing reviews.

I hope I would always try to help anyone I saw in serious trouble.

They always welcomed any of our friends as warmly as ourselves.


Misleading conversion of any into a grammatical function

Lower down on page 367 the CGE says:


Any can occur in affirmative declarative clauses with an implied conditional meaning and in subordinate conditional clauses:


[radio weather forecast]

Any rain will clear by midday.

(if there is any rain, it will clear by midday)

If anyone has any questions during the day, ask Sam.


(The CGE confusingly prints the anyís in bold here, although it is talking about its Ďweakí, unstressed forms.)


Here we find an example of the frequent grammarianís error of confusing the meaning of a sentence with the meaning of a word, together with the distraction of converting a word into a grammatical function. This is a classic case of using a grammatical formula to justify, to produce, a particular word, a particular meaning, when in reality what is happening is the reverse. The combination of a particular set of meanings, together with the particular meaning any, produces, in this case, an overall conditional meaning. But a different combination will not:


Any memberís signature will authorise you to attend the meeting.


As I have pointed out elsewhere, any can be used in any sort of sentence so long as it makes sense ( ) Like other grammarians (see particularly ) the CGE here is creating a separate new any, a Ďconditionalí any, something that does not in fact exist. It is not only a fantasy based on back-to-front thinking. It is a very unhelpful fantasy. This is not the way native English-speakers learn what any means and how to use it. They do not learn anyís meaning by scanning possible utterances and determining whether there is a conditional idea that would permit them to use any; they learn it by hearing the word many times in many different contexts. They learn meanings, and logic tells them how those meanings can and cannot be fitted together. Learners of English as a foreign language should be encouraged to try as much as possible to learn in the same way.



30 April 2010; minor revision 17 May 2010; partial revision 25 May 2010

revised layout 12 May 2010



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