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You can ask any student.
You can ask any students.

You can ask each student.
You can ask every student.

Would anyone possibly elaborate on their differences?

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  • Related
    – Nico
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 12:34
  • Related
    – Nico
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 12:35
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    Your title and example sentences use different words. Are you asking about the details of any/every, every/each, any/each or all three words? Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 4:55
  • Hi nima, did any of these answers answer your question to your satisfaction? If so, perhaps you could select the green tick mark next to the one you feel best explains the answer. If not, perhaps you could let us know what you still don't understand? Commented May 1, 2015 at 20:20

5 Answers 5

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You can ask any student

This means you can choose a single student to ask, and you are free to choose whichever student you like.

After this offer, you might choose a particular student, Bob, to ask your question to.

You can ask any students

This means that you can choose as many students as you like to ask, and you are also free to choose which students those will be.

After this offer, you might choose three particular students, John, Bob and Mary, to ask the question to.

You can ask any of the students

This is slightly more ambiguous than the first two, because it's not clear whether the offer intends you to ask any one of the students or if it's open to you asking multiple students.

You can ask each student

This means you can ask all the students individually.

After this offer, you might go round the whole class asking each student one at a time.

You can ask every student

You are allowed to ask all of the students if you want.

After this offer, you might stand at the front of the class and address all the students. Alternatively, you might go round the whole class like in the "each" case.

Finally

"Each" and "every" are very similar in meaning, but "each" sounds slightly more personal, as if you are taking the trouble to spend time on each student. This is because "each" focuses more on the individual nature of the students than "every" does.

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In your title, you have asked about the use of any vs. each and down there in the body, you expressed the confusion between each and every. I'll try to address them all!

First the adjective 'any'. It means one, some, every or all without specification. Now whether it takes a singular noun or plural.

I read this upvoted answer on ELL and it gives us good input (I've modified it a bit).

"any" is used only for uncountable nouns and plurals and when the sentence is a question or a negative. For instance, "Do you have any ideas?/Do you have any idea?" --consider that "Do you have any idea?" is using "idea" as a synonym of "notion" which in turn is uncountable. You would never use "any" for a singular noun you can count. Could you say "Do you have any books?/Do you have any book?"?

The answerer has quoted Smart Choice by Oxford University Press and English in Mind by Cambridge as his/er source. Discussion on this topic is here.

This said, 'You can ask any student' looks proper. If you are still stuck to plural form of 'students', you may simplify it and say, "You can ask any of the students."

Now, an interesting topic of each and every.

Firstly, both the words 'each' and 'every' are determiners and take singular nouns to indicate quantity. They might have similar but not identical meanings all the time. The subtlety of each and every lies in understanding whether you are talking everyone separately or each, all. Worth to note here that each and every also mean same in many contexts --

The profit of the company goes up each/every year - conveys the message without any complexity.

If you see a hairline difference between these two words, you notice that each expresses an idea of one-by-one and thus it emphasizes 'individuality'. On the other hand, every is somewhere between 'each' and 'all'. Let's take an example:

Every employee stood up when the CEO of the company entered in the room
The CEO of the company gave each employee a lovely smile.

You see a little flair one by one there.

Another difference is (quite known to everyone including you) - 'each' for two or more things, and 'every' for three or more things.

I have a ball in each every hand.
This cuckoo clock rings every each hour.

Worth keeping in mind is this point -- You can use ‘each’ as a pronoun, but not ‘every’. The sentence won't look proper in latter case. Consider...

The girls were standing under a tree as it was teeming. Each Every had an umbrella.

Here, each can replace the noun girls, but every won't look proper.

The BBC describes one more good point.

With adverbs - almost, nearly, practically, etc, we have to use every to emphasize that we are talking about the group as a whole.

Following are these three examples-

Practically every person in the room had dated Samantha at some time or another.

Nearly every chocolate had been eaten. There were hardly any left for the boys when they arrived home.

This year I have visited practically every country in South-East Asia.

Furthermore, if you want to say that something is getting repeated (or regular), each is not a good choice. See this -

I have to renew my car insurance every each year.

I'd also quote another useful piece of information from the BBC (the same page):

If we want to use every in a similar way, indicating three or more of something, we must insert one before of them as every has no pronominal form itself. A lot of word stress is put on one so that in effect it means every single one of them. We can use each one of them in a similar way.

Study the following examples of this structure:

The inheritance was shared out equally among the six children. Every one of them received £32,000.
I gave every one of them a $10 tip when I checked out of the hotel.

Additional note- I always wondered that using 'each and every' is incorrect. But then I found that it's used by many and is not incorrect. It simply emphasizes that nothing is left.

Hope this helps.

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    The profit of the company goes up each year. Using each in this context doesn't seem correct to me unless there is a described set of years that you are choosing from. For example, The profit goes up each year that the stock market drops. The profit has gone up every year since the company was founded. In my mind, each is selecting particular years from a set, and every is all years from a range.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 15:38
  • Regarding the auto insurance example, one might very well use each if there is a modifying thought: "I have to renew my insurance each year by the 30th of January." In this example, (as in your original example,) each and every are fairly interchangeable. I've heard both and both sound normal to me, as a native English speaker. Each year does seem to put greater emphasis on the repetitive nature of the task. Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 19:23
  • @ColleenV how do you find this sentence? As the cost of attending college increases each year, some high school graduates may wonder...
    – Maulik V
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 4:51
  • As the cost of attending college increases each year seems OK to me, but I would say the "College tuition increases every year." and "My college tuition increased each year I was at school." I don't have a rule I can cite, it just sounds more correct to me. I'll have to think about it some more. It has something to do with how specific the subject of the phrase is.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 13:00
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These are nearly identical in meaning:

You can ask each of the students

You can ask each student

You can ask every student

The above three carry an expectation that you will most likely be asking all of the students (say, in the classroom).


You can ask any student

This implies that you will most likely only ask one student.


You can ask any students

Finally, this implies that you may ask only a select few of the students (say, until you have gained all of the information that you were looking for).

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    So you're saying that the sentence You can ask any students is grammatically correct? Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 4:33
  • @ManishGiri It is. That doesn't mean it's the right thing to say all the time, though.
    – user230
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 19:34
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You can ask each student - ask them one by one (set of individual persons). You can ask every student - ask them all (as a group of students).

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Each is referring to an individual as one, while the term Every is referring to a group lumped together as one.

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