Small words: prepositions, articles, auxiliaries, quantifiers, determiners. They crop up everywhere. We hardly ever make a sentence without using at least one of these. Yet, they don’t add much to an utterance. In fact, some of them mean nothing at all. We call them fillers because we can understand a sentence without them. Take this for example: Jenny is going back to school tomorrow. The words in bold are an auxiliary verb (the verb be which helps us make the Present Continuous) and a preposition, respectively. Leave them out and you’d still understand what that statement means – a girl, Jenny, is returning to school tomorrow. That’s because the other words (Jenny – a proper noun -, go back – a verb -, school – a noun – and tomorrow -an adverb -) carry the main information in that statement. Leave these words out and you wouldn’t understand anything. This means that the words in bold have a purely grammatical function.
One of these small words I’d like to look at today is any. This word is used in various ways in English, but in this post I’d like to focus on the use of any with plural nouns in yes/no questions, i.e. questions you can answer with either yes or no. Here are some examples: Have you got any children? | Are there any apples in that basket? | There aren’t any eggs in the fridge. Please note that in our mother tongue (Romanian) we don’t use a word like that with plural nouns. We simply say: Ai copii? | Sunt mere în coșul acela? | Nu sunt ouă în frigider. For this reason, if we translate from Romanian into English we might say Have you got children?, which just doesn’t sound right in English. The same is true of the other two sentences: Are there apples in that basket? | There aren’t eggs in the fridge. All three sentences are wrong because I’ve left out the word any. It’s one of those common mistakes we find in our experience as English teachers, so that’s a thing to avoid from now on.
Next time you speak or write in English, use any with plural nouns in yes/no questions or in negative sentences.