Grammar Mishaps: Something vs. Anything
Hub Request: What is the distinction between something and anything?
It's easiest to first look at the definitions of "some" and "any":
Some: An unspecified number or quantity
Any: to any degree or extent; one, some, every, or all without specification
Anything (pronoun): Any object, occurrence, or matter whatever.
- Do you have anything you'd like to say?
- I will have anything to eat.
Something (pronoun): An indeterminate or unspecified thing, amount or extent
- We all remembered something of their visit.
- She was a biology teacher, but she knew something about physics.
What is the difference?
"Something" implies that the noun in question is finite; is used when there are fewer possibilities; and is selective.
"Anything" implies that the noun is infinite but this is somewhat unrealistic so it is implied that there is a larger set of possibilities than with "something"; it is not selective.
Imagine an entire class of students eligible to go on an honorary field trip. If you would take "some" of the students, you are implying that not all of them are acceptable. If you would take "any" of the students, you are implying that every student would be eligible.
- I asked her if there was something she would like to donate. (This implies that there are possibly things that you don't want donated.)
- I asked her if there was anything that she would like to donate. (This implies that you would take an infinite number of donations.)
- She would do anything for her children. (This implies that she loves her children so much there is nothing she wouldn't do for them.)
- She would do something for her children. (This implies that her children aren't as important as other things.)
It is common for "something" to be used in the affirmative and sometimes when asking a question with the expectation of a positive response. This is not a firm rule, just be aware of the context.
- She bought something at the flea market.
- Would you give him something to do?
It is common for "anything" to be used in the negative or interrogative and more commonly than"something" with questions.
- He didn't want anything to do with those girls.
- Is there anything that I can get you? (You can also say, "Is there something that I can get you," but using "anything" sounds a bit more polite.)
Anyone/Anytime vs. Someone/Sometime
"Anyone" , "someone" , "anytime", and "sometime" use the same basic rules. "Someone/sometime" imply finite possibilities where "anyone/anytime" imply infinite possibilities.
- I would like to take someone to the dance. (This implies there are limits to whom I would take to the dance.)
- I would take anyone to the dance. (This is a bit more desperate; I would be willing to take an infinite number of people to the dance.)
- Please come and see me sometime. (This invitation implies a more finite timeline.)
- Please come and see me anytime. (This is a much more open invitation to come at anytime in the future.)