What is the meaning of this sentence:

"Any tiger is a dangerous animal."?

A. A tiger in general is a dangerous animal.
B. Any tiger, even a sick one, is dangerous.


Yes, you can, but in the context of your second sentence it makes more sense.

Two zoo workers are talking:

A. That old tiger can't be dangerous, it's hardly got any teeth left.
B. Look, any tiger is a dangerous animal. Always treat them with respect.

In a similar way, you can say

While most are not serious, emergency room workers treat any complaint of chest pain as if it might be a heart attack.

This baseball team is a mess. I think, at this point in our terrible season, any win is a major victory.

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It could mean either one of your options, and perhaps it could be nuanced a couple other ways as well.

By the way, it's hard to take such a short English sentence and simply ask, "What does this mean?" Native speakers will invariably ask for more context.

I remember an exercise one time where a professor asked us to consider what went through our minds when we heard this sentence:

Mary had a little lamb.

For those who aren't' aware, Mary Had a Little Lamb is an old nursery rhyme and simple song that most people (at least in the US) are first exposed to at a rather early age. So, when we first hear that sentence, most people imagine something like this:

enter image description here

But the class was asked:

  • What if you knew that Mary was my girlfriend, and I had just told you that we went out to dinner last night?
  • Or what if Mary was the name of my sheep, and you knew she had been pregnant?

Suddenly, the pictures change quite a bit:
enter image description here enter image description here

In summary, the title of your question asks: Can I say, “Any tiger is a dangerous animal”?

My answer to that is: Absolutely. You can say anything you want. But that one is even grammatical.

You go on to ask: What does it mean?

My answer to that is: It means I'll be careful to avoid tigers – especially at night.

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  • Re: "By the way, it's hard to take such a short English sentence and simply ask, 'What does this mean?' Native speakers will invariably ask for more context": Sadly, that's not true. Native speakers will often just assume a certain context (without even realizing that they're making an assumption). – ruakh Dec 29 '17 at 22:01
  • @ruakh - Perhaps so, but I was mostly talking about here on ELL. – J.R. Dec 29 '17 at 22:14

It can and does mean both. But it's a poorly constructed sentence.

To emphasize sentence A:

A tiger is always dangerous.

Here the emphasis is on the verb to be, it implies that whatever state a tiger is in, it is dangerous.

To emphasize sentence B:

Tigers are dangerous animals.

Here the emphasis is on what sort of animal tigers are, i.e., dangerous.

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  • I like what you're saying here. But there are a few contexts where the OP's sentence might be quite appropriate (like the sample zookeeper dialogue in @Andrew's answer). – J.R. Dec 29 '17 at 21:59

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