There are many ways to quantify a noun in English, and the words some, any, every, each, and no are among the most common. Part of the difficulty students have in learning these terms is that they are used in more than one way. For example, some can be a quantifier (a word that tells us how much/many) that precedes a noun (e.g., I want some pizza), but it can also be an indefinite pronoun that takes the place of a noun (e.g., I want some; Some of the people want pizza). It can also be attached to the suffix ‑body or ‑one to form other indefinite pronouns (somebody and someone).
In my experience, it helps to break down the functions of such terms. Focusing a lesson on one function, and then comparing the different words within that function, helps students keep the uses straight. Let’s focus on quantifiers today, and save the pronoun function for another blog post.
Think of some as an indefinite number that’s around 50% (I’ve found it really helps my students when I give them percentages to compare). We mainly use some in affirmative sentences. Some can be used with count and non‑count nouns. When it precedes a subject noun, the noun is plural and it takes a plural verb.
- She asked for some money.
- Some people like the movie.
Some can also be used in certain types of questions, such as offers and requests.
- Do you want some more coffee? (offer)
- Can I get some chairs delivered tomorrow? (request)
We mainly use any in negative sentences and questions. Any can be used with count and non-count nouns. When it precedes a subject noun, the noun is plural and it takes a plural verb.
- He doesn’t want any help.
- Do any blankets we collect go to charity?
Any can also be used in affirmative sentences when we want to emphasize that we don’t have a specific item in mind.
- I need a pen. Any pen will do. (I don’t care which pen it is.)
Think of every as 100%. We can use every in affirmative sentences, negative sentences, and questions. Every can only be used with count nouns. When it precedes a subject noun, the noun is singular and it takes a singular verb. This is very confusing to students because the meaning is always plural (every always means more than one).
- Every person here is going to vote “yes.”
- I haven’t counted every ballot yet.
- Do you want to keep every piece of furniture in this room?
What about every time? “Time” in this case is actually a count noun. When we say every time, we’re thinking of each individual instance that something occurred.
Each and every are commonly confused. Each is a way to emphasize the individual people or things in a pair or group. We can use each in affirmative sentences, negative sentences, and questions. Each can only be used with count nouns. When it precedes a subject noun, the noun is singular and it takes a singular verb.
- Each student needs the permission slip signed.
- I’ll make an announcement because I don’t want to talk to each person individually.
- Will you please check each piece of paper carefully?
Are each and every interchangeable? They can be, but with each, the emphasis is more on the individual nouns.
- Each person must respond. (person A, person B, etc.)
- Every person must respond. (all of the people)
Think of no as 0%. We use no in affirmative sentences, but note that the meaning is negative (i.e., we don’t use no and not in the same sentence). No can be used with both count and non‑count nouns. When it precedes a subject noun, the noun is usually plural and it takes a plural verb.
- No animals are sold at this zoo.
- We have no time to finish this project.
Can no be used with a singular noun? It’s possible, especially in more formal language.
- No person can enter the premises after hours.
Any time or anytime?
As a teacher and an editor, one of the most common mistakes I see students and native speakers make is with any time and anytime. They can both appear at the end of a sentence, which makes them difficult to distinguish. To be able to tell them apart, think of the different meanings:
Any time functions as a quantifier + noun and refers to “an amount of time.”
- Do you have any time to help me?
- I can’t call you tonight. I don’t have any time.
Anytime functions as an indefinite pronoun and means “whenever.”
- Anytime you call me, I’ll come running.
- His favorite sport is soccer. He’ll play anytime.
Stay tuned for a blog post on common indefinite pronouns!