Monday, October 26, 2015

Teaching “some” and “any”

Language teachers often present the “rule”:

Some in positive sentences
Any in negatives and questions

despite the fact that they know that all of the following are possible English
sentences:

I like some pop music.
I like any pop music.
I don’t like some pop music.
I don’t like any pop music.

Teachers, and even books, go to great lengths to explain “special” uses of some and any in an attempt to preserve the “basic rule” which they have already taught. In fact this rule is completely wrong.
The use of some and any is determined by meaning, not by structure:

Some and any are both used for indefinite quantities.
Some is used if the quantity is restricted in some way.
Any is used if the quantity is not restricted.

This rule, although more abstract and “difficult”, covers all uses of some and any, and their compounds (somebody, anything, etc.). Some always refers to part; any refers to all or none. The four sentences above may be shown diagrammatically:


If part of the area is shaded, some is used. If the whole area is the same (shaded or unshaded), any is used. Traditional teaching, ignoring this basic rule, first taught the ‘rule’ relating to positives, negatives and questions, and then followed with “exceptions” concerning “polite requests” (Can I get you something to eat?), anticipated answers (Have you got some tomatoes, please?) etc.

(Taken from Lewis, M., & Hill, J. (1992). Practical techniques for language teaching. Hove, England: Language teaching publications.)