Some food for thought…any takers?

15 07 2011

And so it’s time to kick off the last section of my blog to get going and in fact the one I’m most excited about.  I’ve always loved language and I’ve always wanted to share my thoughts on those language conundrums that have defeated countless course books over the years, misleading teachers and ending up in unlearning. 

Some and any came up today on our current CELTA course and of course the candidate simply followed the rule in the book:

some is usually used for positive sentences

any is usually used in negatives and questions

Now, we all know you can use some in questions and negative statements and you can use any in positive statements – presumably Phillip Kerr does too (the author of Straightforward Pre-Intermediate – by far one of the better books on the market and universally loved by CELTA trainees and this CELTA trainer) which is why he says usually.  But is chucking that usually in to cover his back helpful?  Not really.  Students need to know when they can and can’t use language and why they can and can’t use language and so this usually is simply unusually unsatisfactory. 

So when do we always use some and when do we always use any? 

Well, let’s do what we encourage learners to do and look at some examples.  Herein lies a random brainstorm which I promise is happening now and is not preplanned:

Can I have / Would you like some more? 

Have you got some glue?

Some people wouldn’t agree. 

Some of us are going…

I remember some things he said.

Don’t you have some information about…

Is there some cheese left? 

Is there not some cheese left?

Some people aren’t going to like it. 

Aren’t some of those a bit odd? 

So hopefully we agree we can use some with positives, negatives and questions and the questions are not just limited to offering a cuppa.  What about any:

He’ll be here at any moment.

Come round any time you like. 

Have you got any sugar?

I haven’t got any friends. 

Isn’t there any cheese?

Again we can use any with all three (positive, negative, question).  So that usually rule isn’t helpful enough to allow our students to make discerning choices when using language.  So how can we help them?

It’s actually pretty straightforward – some and any are used in the same way as the articles – definite and indefinite.  Hopefully you can see which is which? Let’s look at all those random (I promise) examples again:  

Can I have / Would you like some more? (of the specific coffee, tea, beer, whatever that you’ve already had some of)

Have you got some glue? (i.e. the specific type(s) of glue that will do the sticking job you can see I’m trying to accomplish)

Some people wouldn’t agree. (e.g. those that want to smoke wherever they want)

He’ll be here at some point. (i.e. between 1pm and 3pm)

Some of us are going… (from the group of friends / workmates that is obvious to both of us)

I remember some things he said. (for instance, that some is definite and any is indefinite)

Don’t you have some information about… (i.e. prices, addresses, of the hotels available)

Is there some cheese left? (of that tasty cheddar you bought last week – I don’t know if there is, just asking))

Is there not some cheese left? (of that tasty cheddar – I thought there was and am surprised I can’t find it)

Aren’t some of those a bit odd? (Those (sentences, people, whatevers) there that we both know what we mean by)

So do you agree that some is a definite quantifier, talking about something defined that both speaker and listener are clear about – in exactly the same way the defines.  And what about any:

He’ll be here at any moment. (Not within specific times such as 1pm and 3pm, it really could be whenever)

Have you got any sugar? (doesn’t matter if it’s granulated or caster or old)

I haven’t got any friends. (I’ll be friends with anybody, doesn’t matter what they’re like or what they do or who they are. 

Isn’t there any cheese? (don’t care which type, cheddar, Gouda, red Leicester, I just need some cheese)

So would you agree they’re all indefinite uses of any? Without any exceptions?  If you come across any, please do chuck them in a comment below – I’m sure someone will.  

Which reminds me, is this rule useful to students?  Yes, it is, because they already know it (for the and a/an) and it holds true, not just for some examples, but any examples.  

And does it hold true for the compound words like somebody, somewhere, anytime, anyhow, etc. ?

Well, I’ve done some of the work, you check out the above and try and find some exceptions, any will do.  I bet you’ll have some fun trying…

And when you’ve finished here are some materials you can use to practice some and any using the above meanings:

Level 2 Elementary Some & Any Connect Three 

Level 4 Some and Any Dialogue




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