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I saw this test in a grammar book: which word or phrase best completes the following sentence?

..... real work was done in the office while the boss was away.

a) Not a

b) Not any

c) No

d) None

The answer according to the book is no, which is obviously correct. But it seems to me that the sentence is also grammatical with not any. I'd like to know that if not any can't be the correct answer here, why is it so?

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    To me "Not any" is wrong because it sounds wrong. I will leave it to a grammarian to say whether it's grammatically incorrect. May 11, 2022 at 16:12
  • Because "Not any" would be used with a countable quantity, so it is not correct with work, which is not a countable noun. "Not any people, not one goose, not a single book, and no real work."
    – user8356
    May 11, 2022 at 17:37
  • @EthanBolker, It sounds completely correct to me! But my intuition can't be trusted here, because I'm not a native English speaker.
    – apadana
    May 12, 2022 at 10:42

2 Answers 2

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the use of "not any" seems awkward to me. "Not any" is not usually used at the start of a sentence in this way. Note that this Google Ngram shows essentially zero use of "Not any" at the start of a sentence.

To come at this another way, let us consider altering the sentence.

The sentence suggested by the book is:

No real work was done in the office while the boss was away.

If we want to change this to indicate that soem work was done, we can easily create:

Some real work was done in the office while the boss was away.

and that is a perfectly valid and natural sentence. But suppose we want to make a similar change to the version that starts with "Not any". then the sentence:

No real work was done in the office while the boss was away.

Not any real work was done in the office while the boss was away.

becomes:

Any real work was done in the office while the boss was away.

this is pretty clearly not natural, and I suspect not even grammatical. This helps show that "not any" cannot be a valid answer to the question in the book.

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“Not any” is a perfectly idiomatic intensifier of “no” (at least in American English). Nor is there a grammatical issue. Some may consider “not any” somewhat informal. I do not.

There was not any evidence of fraud

is just more emphatic than

There was no evidence of fraud

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    But that's in the predicate. Can you find any examples of not any in the subject? I think they're much rarer.
    – Colin Fine
    May 11, 2022 at 16:41
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    Yes, but surely we never begin a sentence with Not any? There was not any evidence of fraud is OK, but no-one would say Not any evidence of fraud was found. May 11, 2022 at 16:42
  • -1 @Kate Bunting is correct. See the Ngram in my answer. The example with "not any" in the middle of the sentence, modifying the object , is not comparable to the use of "Not any" at the start, modifying the subject. May 11, 2022 at 16:55
  • “Not any evidence of forced entry was found at the scene of the crime” is a perfectly good sentence. May 11, 2022 at 19:56
  • I don't find it at all idiomatic. May 12, 2022 at 7:51

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