5

a. We have to find the root cause of any problem these children have.

b. We have to find the root cause of any frustration these children feel.

Could these sentences be used if the speaker is not sure that the children do have any problems/frustration?

Do they imply that the children do indeed have problems/frustration?

I think they do. I think if we had 'might have' instead of 'have' then the speaker would be implying that he or she is not sure if there are problems/frustrations.

Many thanks.

2
  • 2
    A hotel desk clerk offering to help solve "any problem you have during your stay" may intend "if you have any" whereas a social worker at a shelter for runaway teens may mean "however serious the problem may be". any is open to interpretation.
    – TimR
    Nov 28, 2023 at 11:23
  • 1
    Wouldn't it be problems (plural) in the first sentence?
    – Fattie
    Nov 28, 2023 at 19:21

3 Answers 3

7

That seems a good analysis. The grammar doesn't say that the children do have a problem, and the speaker seems to accept the possibility that no problem will be found.

However you would infer that the speaker expects to find some problems (or else why would they be looking for causes) If the speaker thought it likely that no problem would be found then something like "We have to determine if these children have any problems, and if so, determine the root cause of those problems". Similarly you could use "might have" to indicate doubt that a problem exists.

Anoher example "Please clean any contact points you see as you move around the building". It's a sign giving instructions to building cleaners. The person who wrote the sign clearly expects that the cleaners will see some contact points, although it doesn't actually state that they exist.

3
  • 2
    A warning like “Anyone caught violating these regulations will be prosecuted” does not imply an assumption that the regs will ever actually be violated. Nov 28, 2023 at 15:21
  • 1
    Indeed, and this is why pragmatics is perhaps more important than grammar. For some regulations you would expect someone to violate them sooner or later. For other regulations you would expect (or hope) that they are never violated. So you can't understand something unless you understand the background. In the OP's example you would be confident that the children must have some kind of problem (or else why start this "root cause" investigation. But you only know that from our understanding, or interpretation, of the background to such a sentence
    – James K
    Nov 28, 2023 at 21:47
  • 1
    Exactly, @James K. The second sentence of your answer is the key. I offered my example of the warning about violating regulations because I read the OP as meaning, “I think that [the sentences] do imply that the children do indeed have problems/frustration,’” whereas it’s possible that the root-cause analysis is being proposed as a response in case it should turn out that the children have problems or feel frustrations. Context and intended meaning are everything. Nov 28, 2023 at 22:14
1

The particular wording is open to various queries. What you seem to want would be more clear if you used instead '… any problem these children (may/might) have.'

Rightly or wrongly in grammar or semantics, many people will interpret '… any problem these children have…' as necessarily meaning that the children do have a problem; as always and exactly synonymous with '… the problem…'

Adding 'may/might' in no way removes the possibility of a problem, but it does remove the inference that there must be one.

0

It should be "any problems" (plural).

However otherwise I think it is fine.


As an example:

We need to feed any children who are hungry.

That doesn't necessarily imply some of them must be hungry, just that if we find a hungry child we will feed it.

If you change it to:

We need to feed any children who might be hungry.

Then it doesn't read as well, because now you are casting doubt as to whether or not someone is hungry. They might be, or might not? You may feed a child who "might" be hungry, but actually isn't.


So, if you were to say:

a. We have to find the root cause of any problem these children might have.

This makes the sentence sound like you have to do more work:

  • First, find if they have a problem or not.
  • Second, find the root cause of it.

You may therefore waste time trying to find the root cause of a problem that the child might have but actually doesn't have.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .