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While I was answering a question on ELL, I got confused with a comment from a fellow user. I indicated "Do you have any idea to prove it?' is grammatically correct, but the OP commented that "ideas" should be used in place of "idea". The comment befuddled me. I thought until now that "any" should be followed by singular noun and not plural. So I searched Gooogle and saw it's a huge debate going on and there is no end to it. I got no perfect and trustworthy source. So I thought to post the question here. So what is the right rule? Should singular or plural be used after "any"?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The correct use changes depending on the sentence:

Do you have any idea how to do this?
Do you have any idea what to do?
Do you have any ideas for me?
Do you have any ideas for how to do this?

It seems that, if the singular or plural noun (idea) is directly connected by a subordinating conjuction (how / what / where / which / that), you use the singular; if it's modified by a prepositional phrase (for...) or by nothing at all, you use the plural.

Without using all that grammar jargon, I'd say use the singular if it's followed by how, what, that, who, whom, whose, which, etc, and use the plural otherwise.

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The NOAD has a note about using any:

When used as a pronoun, any can be used with either a singular or a plural verb, depending on the context: "we needed more sugar but there wasn't any left" (singular verb) or "are any of the new videos available?" (plural verb).

In "English Grammar" (David Daniels & Barbara Daniels, ISBN 0-06-467109-7), any is listed between the pronouns that can be either plural or singular, among all, more, and some.

Looking for "do you have any idea for" on the Corpus of the Contemporary American English, I get a single sentence.

But what happened was that the network came to us—because we have a little production company that does my specials—and said, do you have any idea for a show?

Looking for "do you have any ideas for," I get three sentences:

Do you have any ideas for the next movie?

Well, then," said Avette, "do you have any ideas for another topic?"

Do you have any ideas for me?

Looking for "do you have any idea(s) to," I get the following sentences:

Do you have any idea to this day how you stacked up against the men?

So, do you have any ideas to help cows and sheep stop with the gas problem?

Do you have any ideas to boost union membership?

As side note, the Corpus of Contemporary American English doesn't have any example of the phrases I searched for the period 2010-2012. The sentences containing "any ideas to/for" are dated 2005-2009 (the most recent ones), while the sentences containing "any idea to/for" are dated 1995-1999.

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3  
Any idea is idiomatic. Perhaps this is putting too fine a point on it, but Do you have/Have you got any idea what's the matter with her? is different to me than Do you have/Have you got any ideas as to what's the matter with her? in that any idea suggests there's only one possible answer/interpretation. Otherwise, it's most often plural; that's not universally applicable though. Have you got any money? Or Do you have any monies? –  John Q Public Nov 29 '13 at 4:06
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You should look in the British and American corpus and check "Do you have any idea?" vs. Do you have any ideas? and Is there any idea? vs. Are there any ideas? –  Mari-Lou A Dec 20 '13 at 20:07

Conjugating “to do” demonstrates that “does” is used with a (third person) singular object. Now, since “Do any here object?” sounds right, but “Does any here object?” doesn’t suggests that “any” regards a plurality. Also, the fact that the word “anyONE” exists at all suggests that “any” refers to a plurality.

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