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In no time at all, Defense Against the Dark Arts had become most people's favorite class. Only Draco Malfoy and his gang of Slytherins had anything bad to say about Professor Lupin.

"Look at the state of his robes," Malfoy would say in a loud whisper ...

I think 'something' should be used in this sentence, because 'anything' usually is used in a negative sentence. How should we understand the use of 'anything' in this sentence? Is there any difference in this case if we use 'something'?

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    Anything can apply to multiple things. Something generally only applies to a single thing. In this passage, the use of anything implies that they say many different bad things in a way that something wouldn't. – Jason Bassford Nov 17 '18 at 4:38
  • @JasonBassford How about 'everything'? – dan Nov 17 '18 at 4:59
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    I'm not entirely sure why, but the word "only" makes "anything" permissible here. For example, you could say "Draco had something bad to say", but you'd never say "Draco had anything bad to say". But "Only Draco had anything bad to say" is ok. With the word "only", both "anything" or "something" sound fine and mean the same thing. (I'm a native English speaker from Canada) – Gabriel Luci Nov 17 '18 at 5:20
  • @GabrielLuci Thanks for pointing out the word 'only' makes difference here! That's really a good point! – dan Nov 17 '18 at 5:30
  • @dan It could be paraphrased as every bad thing was said by Draco, etc. But the sentence would need to be restructured for that. (Had everything bad wouldn't really work.) But as mentioned in another comment, for that to happen, only would have to be removed. – Jason Bassford Nov 17 '18 at 6:03
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Only Draco had anything bad to say can be interpreted as: nobody but Draco had anything bad to say. Only and nobody go well with any. It emphasizes that many people didn't have anything bad to say. This is also the "negative" aspect. If you use "something" it doesn't have the same feel.

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I can't say if this is a definitive rule of English, but in my experience there is a slightly different connotation. The word "anything" seems broader than "something". It implies that every possibility has been tried. had the text said "only Malfoy had something bad to say" we could interpret that as meaning simply that Malfoy thought of something bad to say. It doesn't necessarily imply that it was difficult to come up with something bad to say.

In contrast, "only Malfoy had anything to say" seems to imply that it was difficult to come up with something bad to say.He had exhausted all options and he was grasping at straws to find anything negative, no matter how far-fetched.

Indeed this can perhaps be supported by the very next sentence. The best thing Malfoy can come up with that is negative about Lupin is the state of his robes. The discussion was clearly about whether Lupin was a good teacher, and whether his classes were good classes. Appparently Malfoy could think of nothing bad about Lupin that was relevant, so he had to desperately come up with anything negative, even though it had nothing to do with the topic at hand.

I don't think that the word "something" would carry the same extent of the implication.

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