The following is the answer key for an exercise in Macmillan's Straightforward Intermediate coursebook. The instruction asks the student to correct six mistakes (concerning determiners) in the following dialogue:

My concern is "any" in this response by A:

Oh, come on. The A packet of English tea bags? Any A jar of marmalade? Some crackers?

This "any" did strike me as somehow out-of-place, but I couldn't seem to find the exact reason behind it, because usually, similar "any" phrases as in the following seem to work just fine.

Would you like anything else? Any drink? Any snacks?

I did, however, experiment with "any" a little by trying removing the classifiers:

[...] Any English tea bags? Any marmalade? [...]

which somehow makes them sound more natural to me.

I've also speculated that this might have something to do with "Some" in "Some crackers?" as "any," being an NPI, doesn't really go with "some," while the indefinite articles fit just fine; but I'm not quite certain this is the case.

So, the question stands: why doesn't "any" fit here?

  • 1
    Remember that, besides the non-affirmative "any", there's also a free choice "any". That is, there's two different types of usage. For a free choice type of usage, consider: "You can choose any jar of marmalade." -- (There's some info in CGEL, pages 381-3.)
    – F.E.
    May 19, 2015 at 18:58

1 Answer 1


In "any tea bags?" the bags is plural.  There will be some number of bags.  In "any marmalade?" the marmalade is singular but uncountable.  There will be some amount of marmalade. 

In "any packet?" the packet is singular and countable.  There will be one.  There's nothing indefinite about the number or amount of just one countable thing. 

The word "any" can be used as an optional indefinite determiner (similar to the indefinite article a or an) for plural things and uncountable things.  It denotes an indefinite number or amount.  For countable singular things, that's not possible.  For countable singulars, the number is definitely one.

  • Indeed. And although you don't explicitly say so, A's response is effectively casual shorthand for repeated questions of the basic form Do you ever buy [X] - where suitable values for X include tea, any tea, English tea, English teabags, any English teabags, marmalade, any marmalade, any jars of marmalade, etc. (but not normally ...any jar of marmalade). May 19, 2015 at 18:15
  • Please correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I understand, apart from its use as a quantifier denoting an indefinite amount, any can also be used to mean "it doesn't matter which," in which case the noun following it can be a countable singular, e.g. as in "have you got any book on Einstein?" If my understanding is correct, why, then, is such use not possible in the dialogue?
    – user1513
    May 19, 2015 at 18:26
  • @Fantasier Some people might use any with singular book. But I would ask: Have you got any books on Einstein (it doesn't matter which (ones))? Just like I would ask: Have you got any tea bags? Not: Have you got any tea bag?
    – user6951
    May 19, 2015 at 19:05
  • There's a difference between "we can find the answer in a book" and "we can find the answer in any book" -- the first is often true but the second is almost always false. The question "any jar of marmalade?" is weirdly emphatic and inappropriately inclusive, given the context of the dialogue. May 19, 2015 at 19:17

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