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Let me write some example sentences first:

  • "Do you believe in a religion?"
  • "Do you support a team in the NBA?"
  • "Is there a girl with weird short pink hair at the party?"

Can I say these sentences above instead of these below:

  • "Do you believe in any religion/any religions?"
  • "Do you support any team/any teams in the NBA?"
  • "Is there any girl with weird short pink hair at the party?"

Note: I know that the former group of sentences can be said in a situation where I have a guess. For example, I can say "Do you believe in a religion" in a context like this: Let's say I saw someone I know reading a book, and I asked him what he was reading, and he said "I am reading the holy book". As far as I know, in this situation, if I am thinking that he probably believes in a religion because of the fact that he is reading a "holy" book, I can say "Do you believe a religion?" or "You believe a religion?" as a response to what he said.

But what about the situations where I have no idea if a person believes a religion or not? Can I say "Do you believe in a religion" instead of "Do you believe in any religion/religions" in a situation like this: Let's say I am conversing with a person I just met. I have no single idea if that person believes any religions or whatever. We haven't talked about anything which has to do with religions at all. For starting a new conversation topic, can I say "Do you believe a religion?" instead of "Do you believe any religion/religions" to that person?

My question is the same for the other two sentences I gave.

EDIT: I think I need to add contexts for the other sentences too:

Context for the second sentence: Let's say I have no idea if someone I just met supports a team in the NBA or not. We haven't ever talked about it. For starting a new conversation topic, can I say "Do you support a team in the NBA?" instead of "Do you support any team/any teams in the NBA?"?

Context for the third sentence: Let's say I have a female friend, and she has "weird", short pink hair. Let's say we were both invited to a party and we both decided not to go there. And let's say during the time the party is continuing, when I am at home, I am feeling like my female friend might have attended the party without telling me about it (I have no idea if she is there though, or nobody told me she was there), and I am calling a male friend who went to the party for asking if she is there. Can I say "Is there a girl with weird short pink hair at the party?" instead of "Is there any girl with weird short pink hair at the party? to my male friend who doesn't know my female friend on the phone?

  • Please don't change the question unless it clarifies what you are asking. Please don't edit to take account of language suggestions. You have made the first part of my answer useless. Rolled back. – Weather Vane Jun 4 '18 at 19:17
  • Thanks. I think I needed to change the word "believe" to "follow" because I would like the answers to be focused on that "a" - "any" topic. I would be happy if you let me change it to "follow". I also would like to add contexts for the other sentences. – Fire and Ice Jun 4 '18 at 19:22
  • I improved my answer. You could add "updates" to the question as I did to my originally off-topic answer. – Weather Vane Jun 4 '18 at 19:23
  • any coffee, any girls, with an s. Were there any girls at the party etc. any + count and any+ uncountable. – Lambie Jun 4 '18 at 21:20
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The question seems to focus more on religion than on sports or hair style.

A religion is a practice not a belief. You might not believe religions exist until you see people go to a place of worship. So religions are a fact, not a belief. They do exist.

However, a religion's followers share their beliefs in theological matters.

So if you see someone reading a holy book, pertinent questions might be

Do you follow a religion?

Do you practice a religion?

Which religion do you follow?

But if a conversation has given you a hint that it may be so, you can ask

Are you religious?

I would not use that as an opening line for a conversation, it needs to be led towards by "small talk" to get a conversation going, unless you have an encounter with someone reading a holy book.

I realise I have side-stepped the question about "a" or "any", because I would not say it like that at all, and I hope this answer helps.


Update:

In the second case, I think you can say "a team" or "any team".

The third case is harder.

Is there a girl with weird short pink hair at the party?

This implies you have seen or know the girl and want to know if she is at the party.

Is there any girl with weird short pink hair at the party?

This means you want to meet such a girl and ask if there is one like her at the party.

  • Thank you. This helped too. I am going to change it to "follow". And no, my question is not focused on that question about religions. I just wanted to show what I meant by using that sentence as an example. What I mainly wonder about is, as I said, whether I can use "a" instead of "any" in questions in contexts where I don't have a guess. – Fire and Ice Jun 4 '18 at 19:08
  • @DereMemo added some more towards your specific question. – Weather Vane Jun 4 '18 at 19:15
  • You wouldn't say it, but asking "Do you follow a religion" is not grammatically or idiomatically wrong in a context when I want to start a new conversation topic (I have no idea if that person follows a religion or not) I guess, right? – Fire and Ice Jun 6 '18 at 20:53
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First, I concur with the answer from @Weather Vane. A religion is a practice and not a belief. Nevertheless, I have been asked if I believe in a religion, even by people who are native English speakers and who should have known better.

Either of the two sets of three questions that you asked about are acceptable, regardless of any prior knowledge you may have. However, I would suggest using the first examples rather than the second. The use of "any" instead of "a" tends to make the question sound more emphatic. eg If you saw someone reading a religious text, and asked if they had religious beliefs, and they said, "No", you may possible respond with:

You mean you do not have any religious beliefs?"

I live in Australia, where a very large percentage of the population supports a team in one or more of the local football codes. I do not. If I am asked what team I support, and I reply that I don't support a team, I will then frequently be asked"

What! You don't support any team at all?

This being said in a tone of voice that indicates either incredulity or faint disapproval.

  • Asking if you believe in a religion is just short for asking if you believe the tenets of the religion. E.g. asking if you believe in Christianity is asking if you believe things like Jesus being the son of God. – Barmar Jun 4 '18 at 23:41
  • The religion thing is not the point of the question. It is, of course, better English to say "Do you have religious beliefs?" And "Do you have any religious beliefs". That said, the question is possible. Possible forms of this could be: Do you believe in a religion? Do you believe in religion? Do you believe in religions? – Lambie Jun 5 '18 at 13:30
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    @Barmar Totally agree. When I was asked if I believed in religion (or a religion), I answered the underlying question (ie Are you religious), and did not raise the issue that the question is effectively illogical. – James Jun 5 '18 at 14:51
  • Thank you. So, I am just asking for confirming: Even if I have no idea what the answer is going to be, I can use "a" instead of "any" in those sentences I gave, right? – Fire and Ice Jun 6 '18 at 20:48
  • Yes, that is correct. – James Jun 7 '18 at 14:52
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Examine these two sentences.

I took a cup.

I took any cup.

"A cup" means an actual cup was there.

The second sentence doesn't make sense unless there's some context from conversation we can't see, because you can't say "any X" unless you imply or express a "search" in some way.

I took any cup that could I find.

When you ask a question involving any X, you are "searching" for X.

Do you have any cup? (If not, I'm going to continue searching for a cup.)

Versus this:

Do you have a cup? (If you don't have a cup I'm not implying that I'm going to ask another person for it.)

That's what you're communicating with any versus a/an.

So:

Do you believe in a religion? (I just want to know your religious status.)

Do you believe in any religion? (Sounds like I'm looking for people who believe (or don't believe) in something).

Do you support a team in the NBA? (Just want to know if you're a fan.)

Do you support any team in the NBA? (I'm looking for NBA fans.)

Is there a girl with weird short pink hair at the party? (Trying to find out what is going on)

Is there any girl with weird short pink hair at the party? (Looking for someone with pink hair)

0

The explanation below is for the word any IN CONTRAST to a:one, some or all of indefinite quantity. And not one or another at random as in: Ask anyone and they will tell you.

Do you support a team? Versus Do you support any teams in the NBA.

In this sense (**where you could use a instead of any,**the noun if countable takes an s, and if not, it does not.

The sentence: Any road you take could be dangerous does not contrast with: A road you take could be dangerous. Because there, any means a random road. So that is not the question here.

SINGULAR: "Do you believe in a religion?" "Do you support a team in the NBA?" "Is there a girl with weird short pink hair at the party?"

PLURAL: "Do you believe in any religions?" "Do you support any teams in the NBA?" "Are there any girls with weird short pink hair at the party?"

any requires a plural for countable nouns.

Not for uncountable nouns:

Do you have any coffee in the house?

I didn't get into the believe in a religion thing because it is not the main issue here. That said, one could conceivably say to believe in a religion.

For me, Do you have any cup, singular is not grammatical in English. Do you have a cup? or Do you have any cups.

  • Whoever downvoted did the OP a disservice. One thing is colloquialism in language, another is the limits of what a native speaker would say in this or that situation, and another thing is just plain wrong. – Lambie Jun 5 '18 at 13:25
  • Sorry about that, your input to the question is of value. I never vote on answers to a question where I post an answer myself. – Weather Vane Jun 5 '18 at 16:52
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    It isn't my downvote, but your use of the word "requires" (in bold print, no less) may have rubbed someone the wrong way, as it could be regarded as a "disservice" to the learner, too. Any road can be a dangerous road; sand can be found on any beach; you can ask me any question you want; the dealer must hit on any hand that totals 16 or less – those are all grammatical and idiomatic statements, with countable nouns in the singular form following an any. You've drawn an erroneous general conclusion from a small handful of examples that follow a particular pattern. – J.R. Jun 5 '18 at 17:09
  • @J.R. My examples are very specific for the use of any versus a. The examples are specifically for the question asked: a/any in that context. Your example is different. english.stackexchange.com/questions/116742 And: see weak form for indefinite quantities, usually as in: any eggs? Yes, some eggs. That is the question by the OP. Use of any with countable nouns (cars, trucks and buses) for indefinite quantities. Your examples are not that. Any road can be dangerous is not an example because any does not mean an indefinite quantity of, does it?? – Lambie Jun 5 '18 at 17:43
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    @Lambie - We've been through this before. Your answer doesn't say, "In this case..." or, "In this context..." or, "In this specific use..." or, "When referring to an indefinite quantity..." It says (somewhat categorically), any requires a plural for countable nouns. When you make such a misleading statement, you should not be shocked by a downvote. – J.R. Jun 5 '18 at 18:22

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