Any

By Maeve Maddox

A reader asks,

If a countable noun comes after any, then should it [the noun] be singular or plural?

Like the indefinite article a/an, the word any derives from a form of the Old English word for one. Primarily an adjective, it is also used as a pronoun.

As an adjective, any is most commonly followed by plural or uncountable nouns:

In questions:
Do you have any tomatoes for sale? (plural noun)
Baa, baa Black Sheep, have you any wool? (uncountable noun)

In negative statements:
I don’t have any books by that author. (plural noun)
The lion didn’t have any courage. (uncountable noun)

In conditional statements:
If your final draft contains any errors, it will be rejected. (plural noun)
If you need any help with the proofing, let me know. (uncountable noun)

Sometimes any is used to modify a singular countable noun:

Any fourth-grader should be able to read that book.

Any grammar book will have a section on relative pronouns.

In these sentences, any is used in the sense of every:

Every fourth-grader should be able to read that book.

Every grammar book will have a section on relative pronouns.

Sometimes a singular countable noun follows any in a question:

Is there any rule that says I can’t dye my hair green?

Is there any reason you slam the screen door every time you go through it?

In the above contexts, the speaker does not anticipate more than one rule or reason, if any. On the other hand, a speaker who anticipates that there could be several rules or reasons would follow any with a plural noun:

Are there any rules against further construction in this neighborhood?

Are there any reasons we shouldn’t require job applicants to submit samples of their writing?

As a pronoun, any stands for a noun that has already been expressed, or when it is followed by the preposition of:

Of all the books I have read, this one is more memorable than any.

If there are any of the pecans left after the sale, you may have them.

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