02/11/2011


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What do you find hardest about learning English? What do you most want to improve? Chances are, grammar is near the top of both your lists. Whether you like it or not, you can't learn any language without spending some time studying the rules of its grammar. But sometimes, those rules are difficult to define. In a new series, we'll be looking at the cases where the rules of grammar can be broken.

Grammar.  The word can strike fear into the heart of many a student, but for others the rules of grammar offer something concrete for people to hold on to.  The truth is grammar can be a bit of a double-edged sword.  Although the rules are important and are useful to learn, all too often the rules of English grammar can be broken.

Let’s take "some" and "any" for example.

The rules

  1. We use some in positive sentences for both countable and uncountable nouns.  For example: I have some friends.
  2. We use any in negative sentences for both countable and uncountable nouns.  For example: He doesn’t have any friends in London.

The Truth

Although this is undoubtedly a useful rule to learn, unfortunately it can be broken all too often.  For example, look at the following sentences.  Which ones would you say are correct?

  • I like some English beer.
  • I like any English beer.
  • I don’t like some English beer.
  • I don’t like any English beer.

According to the rules, only the first and the last sentences are correct.  However, they are all correct – it all depends on the context in which they are used.  Look at the sentences below, this time in context.

  • I like some English beer, but I don’t like all of it.
  • I like any English beer, I’m not fussy – it’s all great!
  • I don’t like some English beer, but I do like most of it.
  • I don’t like any beer.  It’s disgusting!

We can see here that any in the second means I don't mind/care which.  Another example would be:

Q. What would you like for dinner? A. Anything!  I'm starving! 

In the third sentence, some means a small amount.  Another example is:

I don't like some of their songs, but U2 are definitely my favourite band. 

I tend to tell my students that there are no rules in English grammar, only patterns.  Learning these patterns is always a good idea, but be aware that there will be exceptions.  Next time, we'll have a look at conditionals.  Until then, if there's any grammar you would like us to talk about here on the blog, let us know and who knows, perhaps we can reveal the truth.

Thanks for reading.

By Andy

Glossary

to strike fear into the heart of sby - (idiom) to cause a strong, unpleasant feeling

concrete - (adj.) something real and practical that can be learnt and remembered

a double-edged sword - (idiom) something that has both advantages and disadvantages

undoubtedly - (adv.) certainly

context - (n.) the set of circumstances or facts that surround a situation or event

exceptions - (pl.n.) things that do not agree or conform to the general rule


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