Some or any? Little words that cause big problems

by Liz Walter

Elizabeth Livermore/Moment/Getty
Elizabeth Livermore/Moment/Getty

Some and any are extremely useful and frequent words in English, but they are also the source of many learner errors. This post looks at how to use them correctly.

The first thing to remember is that we only use some and any directly before either a plural noun or an uncountable noun:

We bought some clothes.

Do you have any milk?

Do not use some or any with a singular countable noun:

Would you like some piece of cake?

Note also that we don’t use some to talk about things in general. For this, nothing is needed before the noun:

Katie loves animals. (she loves animals in general)

Katie loves some animals.

We saw some animals running away. (we saw specific animals)

So when do we use some and when do we use any? In general, we use some in positive sentences and any in negative sentences:

There were some pictures on the wall.

There weren’t any pictures on the wall.

There weren’t some pictures on the wall.

We also use any if we want to emphasize that it doesn’t matter which one of a group of things we are talking about. This use is particularly common in sentences with if:

Please choose any colour you want.

If you have any problems, call me.

For questions, the situation is slightly more complicated. We use any if we don’t have an idea about what the answer will be or if we don’t know whether or not something exists:

Do you have any students from Russia?

Is there any butter in the fridge?

We use some if we think the answer is likely to be positive, or if we know that something exists:

Would you like some chips?

Can you lend me some money?

Finally, when you use some or any before a noun phrase beginning with a word such as the, those or our (rather than directly before a noun), you need to add of:

Some of the people were crying.

Some the people were crying.

Have you had any of this soup?

Have you had any this soup?

We also use of before a pronoun such as it, us or ours.

You need food? Here, have some of mine.

Marty made a cake but we didn’t eat any of it.

I hope these notes will help, but they seem too complicated, just remember the following:

1) Use some and any only before plural or uncountable nouns

2) Use some in positive sentences, any in negatives

3) Use any in questions (see above for more detail, but any is more common)

4) Use some of and any of if the noun has a word like the or my in front of it.

With these four basic rules, you will be correct most of the time!

31 thoughts on “Some or any? Little words that cause big problems

  1. roseminnie

    thanks for your post. It appears that English Language (like Italian, my mother Language) and probably all languages in the world, got worse through the years. When I read posts from Cambridge Dictionary, I cannot but remember our school teachers’ lessons in the 60s with a clean, understandable construction in a “beautiful” English, as I like to call it.
    Thanks again for teaching us English rules in such a simple way.

  2. Pingback: Some or any? Little words that cause big problems – Cambridge Dictionary About words blog (Jan 18, 2017) | Editorial Words

  3. Pingback: Some or any? Little words that cause big problems - Editorials Today

  4. Nas

    Thanks for this post, but still one thing is missing: When do we use singular or plural noun after “any”?
    Which one is correct:
    1-There weren’t any pictures on the wall.
    2-There weren’t any picture on the wall.

  5. Vlada

    Thank you very much for this article.Could you explain once more.Is it possible to say:”Some people were crying.”instead of “Some of the people were crying”.Does it change the meaning of the sentance or not.Thank you in advance

  6. Pingback: I keep putting it off. (Phrasal verbs with ‘put’) – Cambridge Dictionary About words blog (Jan 25, 2017) | Editorial Words

  7. Pingback: Some or any? Little words that cause big problems — About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog | Arrowhead Freelance and Publishing

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