8

I'm doing my English homework and my book says these sentences are correct:

1) Do you have any wine?

2) Can I have some water, please?

My questions are:

  • These sentences are structured differently. Does a difference between "wine" and "water" cause the sentences to be structured differently?

  • Why do we not use the word "some" in sentence #1?

6

Both some and any are used with indefinite reference.

Some is used if the idea is restricted or limited in some way. Any is used if the idea is unrestricted or unlimited. Any applies to all or none; some applies to part.

The restriction may be a real one - There's some cheese in the fridge - or a psychological one, existing only in the mind of the speaker - Would you like something to eat?

Michael Lewis (1986.34), The English Verb, LTP: Hove.

Do you have any wine/water? - Unrestricted

Can I have some wine/water, please? - Restricted, a limited amount

8

There is a difference between 'information questions', and requests or suggestions. If you ask an information question, you want the person listening just to give you some information:

  • Is there any bread?
  • Are there any doctors on the plane?
  • Do any animals lay eggs but give their babies milk?

If you want to make an offer or suggestion, or you want to ask someone to do something, you aren't really asking for information:

  • Could I have some water?
  • Please can we take some photos?
  • May we bring some friends?
  • Shall I ask someone?
  • Shall I cook some pizza?
  • Why don't you ask someone?
  • How about we take some time off?

Although these examples look like questions, they are not really about getting information. They are a way of telling our listener that we want them to do something (for example, give us water, give us permission) - or they are a way of offering to do something (to ask somebody, to cook some pizza) or suggesting something to the listener (that they ask someone, or have some time off).

It isn't really possible to use ideas about restricted or unqualified amounts with questions in the same way that it is with normal declarative affirmative sentences.

A general, useful, rule of thumb which will stop you making very many mistakes is:

  • use any for information questions
  • use some for requests, offers and suggestions:

Hope this helps!

3

In these examples, "wine" and "water" are analogous. If the conversation happened at Cana circa 30 A.D., a guest could substitute "wine" for "water" in either sentence. (Of course, it would be about as miraculous for people in 30 A.D. to be speaking modern English, as for a guest to change water into wine.)

All six of the following sentences are correct. #5 and #6 do not sound as natural to my (American) ear as #1 and #3.

  1. Do you have any wine?

  2. Can I have some water, please?

  3. Do you have any water?

  4. Can I have some wine, please?

  5. Do you have some wine?

  6. Do you have some water?

In all six of the above examples, "wine" and "water" are used as uncountable nouns. The above examples assume that either there is one kind of wine or water, or that the requester does not care what kind of wine or water they might be given. As uncountable nouns, the way to pluralize the amount of "wine" or "water" is to explicitly pluralize a measurable unit of each noun. For example:

  • "a glass of water" or "two glasses of water"
  • "an ounce of wine" or "two ounces of wine"

"Wine" and "water" can also be used as countable nouns. In the examples below, the requester is asking about types of wines and waters, not volumes of indistinguishable wine or water. #11 and #12 do not sound as natural to my (American) ear as #7 and #9.

  1. Do you have any wines?

  2. Can I have some waters, please?

  3. Do you have any waters?

  4. Can I have some wines, please?

  5. Do you have some wines?

  6. Do you have some waters?

For example, the "wines" might be a Champagne and a Merlot. The waters might be Perrier and tap water.

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