Something vs. Anything, Someone vs. Anyone

Summary

In questions, something and someone/somebody are used when a positive answer is expected. Anything and anyone/anybody are more neutral.

Examples
  • Did something happen that I should know about?
    Expecting a positive response.
  • Is there anything I should know?
    More open-ended.

In negative questions, pronouns starting with some help to confirm and clarify, while those starting with any imply a negative expectation.

Examples
  • Hasn’t someone solved this already?
    Positive expectation.
  • Hasn’t anyone called to ask about the offer?
    Negative expectation.

Something and someone are used instead of anything and anyone in affirmative statements.

Examples
  • I found something/anything strange in the freezer.
  • There’s someone/anyone I want you to meet.

Note that anything and anyone/anybody may also be used in affirmatives for emphasis.

Examples
  • Anything could happen while we’re gone.
  • Anyone can learn how to play the piano.

In negative statements, anything and anyone are used instead of something and someone.

Examples
  • There isn’t something/anything more to say.
  • I haven’t told someone/anyone your secret.

Indefinite pronouns starting with both some and any can be used in conditionals. Those starting with some convey greater certainty of the condition being fulfilled.

Example
  • If someone/anyone calls back, let me know.

Something and anything, someone/somebody and anyone/anybody

Something and anything are both used to refer to an unspecified thing. Similarly, someone and anyone (or somebody and anybody) refer to an unknown or unspecified person. Pronouns starting with any carry the additional meaning of “it does not matter which one.”

Examples
  • Is something wrong?
  • Did anyone order pizza?
  • Isn’t someone supposed to call us?
  • Hasn’t anybody called?
  • Someone has stolen my bag!
  • There isn’t anything to worry about.
  • Call me if anything else goes wrong.
  • If someone calls, tell them I’m busy.
Tip

There is no difference in meaning between someone and somebody or anyone and anybody. Somebody and anybody are seen more often in informal usage.

Indefinite pronouns starting with some and any have overlapping meanings but convey different points of view in questions, statements, and conditionals. In this article, we discuss when to use which: pronouns starting with some or those starting with any.

In questions

In questions, something and someone/somebody indicate an expectation of agreement. Anything and anyone/anybody are more neutral, conveying expectation of neither agreement nor disagreement.

Examples
  • Would you like something to eat?
    The speaker expects the offer to be accepted.
  • Would you like anything to drink while you wait?
    More neutral: the person may or may not want a beverage; the speaker does not know.
  • Are you looking for someone?
    The speaker thinks the person is looking for someone.
  • Is there anyone here who can help me?
    More open-ended.

Here are some more examples of something and someone used in affirmative questions when a positive answer is expected.

Examples
  • Should we order something?
    Positive response expected: “Yes, let’s order pizza.”
  • Has something happened?
  • Did you buy her something for her birthday?

And here are more examples of anything and anyone used to ask open-ended questions.

Examples
  • Is there anything else I can help you with?
    Open-ended question: the reply could be “Yes, could you also send me the invoice?” or “No, that’s it.”
  • Can anyone hear me?
  • Is there anyone we can call?
  • Did you find anything unusual?
  • Is anything missing?

In negative questions, something and someone are used with a positive expectation to confirm and clarify. Conversely, anything and anyone convey a negative expectation. Thus, some and any contrast in meaning in negative sentences.

Examples
  • Didn’t you say you saw something in the sky?
    The speaker thinks the person did see something and is seeking to confirm and clarify.
  • Isn’t there anything you can do to help me?
    Confirming a negative expectation: the speaker doesn’t think anything can be done and is confirming this.
  • Didn’t someone order pizza?
    Confirming a positive expectation: the speaker thinks someone did order pizza and is clarifying who it was.
  • Doesn’t anyone care?
    Confirming a negative expectation: the speaker doesn’t think anyone cares.

In affirmative and negative statements

Anything and anyone/anybody are not generally used in affirmative statements. Something and someone/somebody are used instead.

Examples
  • There’s something/anything wrong with my phone.
  • I have something/any to show you.
  • Something/any always goes wrong at the last minute.
  • Someone/anyone keeps calling me at midnight.
  • There’s someone/anyone at the door.
  • You should call someone/anyone to fix this leak.
  • Neither of them is someone/anyone I can trust.

But note that anything and anyone do occur in affirmative sentences, where they are used to emphasize the idea of “no matter what” or “no matter who.” Something and someone don’t carry this meaning.

Examples
  • Anything can happen!
  • We were ready for anything.
  • Together we can face anything life throws at us.
  • The evacuation was worse than anything we had imagined.
  • Anyone can cook.
  • Anybody can teach; only some can inspire.
  • Anything is possible.

Anything and anyone/anybody are also used in affirmative statements that convey a conditional meaning without the use of subordinating conjunctions like if and unless. In such statements, anything is emphasized to mean “everything,” and anyone and anybody mean “everyone” and “everybody.”

Examples
  • Anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law.
    Everything you say could be used against you.
  • Anyone you meet could be a zombie.
    Everyone you meet could be a zombie.
  • Anybody who teaches is a teacher.

In negative statements, anything and anyone/anybody refer to an unspecified thing or person. Something and someone/somebody are not generally used in negatives.

Examples
  • There isn’t something/anything in the bag.
  • I never understand something/anything she says.
  • Farley can’t see something/anything without his glasses.
  • I don’t want something/anything from you.
  • There isn’t something/anything you can do.
  • I don’t think someone/anyone works here anymore.
  • I haven’t told someone/anyone about this.
  • Maya doesn’t know somebody/anybody in Fiji.
  • I didn’t think someone/anyone cared.
Tip

In place of not anything and not anyone/anybody, the more forceful nothing, no one, and nobody can be used in negative sentences.

Examples
  • I have nothing to say to you.
  • I have no one to call my own.
  • There’s nobody here.

In conditionals

In conditionals, pronouns starting with both some and any are used: something and someone/somebody or anything and anyone/anybody. Pronouns starting with some convey greater certainty.

Examples
  • Call me if you need something.
    More certain: the speaker believes that help will be needed.
  • Call me if you need anything.
    More neutral and open-ended.

Since anything and anyone/anybody are open-ended, they are seen more often in conditional statements. Here are some more examples.

Examples
  • If you need anything, call me.
  • If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.
  • Please call me as soon as you hear anything.
  • Feel free to call if anything comes up.
  • If anyone can help you, it’s Anita.
  • I think we should try communicating with the aliens, unless anyone thinks differently.
  • If anybody still has questions, they can send me an email.

Something and someone/somebody are also used in conditionals, where they convey greater certainty than anything and anyone/anybody.

Examples
  • If you see something, say something.
  • If something changes, I’ll let you know.
  • If someone could call me back by tomorrow, that would be great.
  • If somebody knows what happened, they should speak now.

Somewhere vs. anywhere

Somewhere and anywhere are used in the same way as something and anything. For example, somewhere is used in affirmative questions expecting a positive response; anywhere is more open-ended.

Examples
  • Is there somewhere you and I can talk in private?
    Expecting a positive response.
  • Is there anywhere I can hide?
    There may or may not be a hiding place: the speaker does not know.

In negative questions, somewhere conveys a positive expectation and is used for confirmation and clarification. In contrast, anywhere implies a negative expectation.

Examples
  • Isn’t there somewhere private we can talk?
    Positive expectation: the speaker believes such a place exists and is clarifying where it is.
  • Isn’t there anywhere private in this house?
    Negative expectation: the speaker doesn’t think there is such a place.

Anywhere is not generally used in affirmative statements; somewhere is used instead.

Examples
  • We need somewhere/anywhere to live.
  • This is somewhere/anywhere that people can relax.
  • We want to go somewhere/anywhere no one can find us.

In negative statements, anywhere is generally used instead of somewhere.

Examples
  • There isn’t somewhere/anywhere that’s safe anymore.
  • We can’t go somewhere/anywhere expensive, but we can still have fun.
  • I don’t have somewhere/anywhere to live.

Both anywhere and somewhere are used in conditionals. Somewhere conveys greater certainty.

Examples
  • If there’s somewhere we can dance, let’s go there.
    The speaker believes there is such a place.
  • Let me know if there’s anywhere we can stay for a few days that isn’t too expensive.
    More neutral.

Examples from literature

Here are some examples from published works that show how pronouns starting with some and any convey a different meaning from each other in questions, statements, and conditionals.

Examples
  • Something in question expecting positive response: Are you hurt? Have you seen something?
    Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847)
  • Anybody in open-ended question: Did you ever know of anybody whose hair was red when she was young, but got to be another color when she grew up?
    L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (1908)
  • Something in negative question to confirm and clarify: Won’t you have an egg or something? Or a sausage or something? Or something?
    P.G. Wodehouse, “Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest,” Carry On, Jeeves (1925)
  • Anyone in negative question with negative expectation: It doesn’t matter how ‘successful’ each of us is in life. . . . Why can’t anyone else see that?
    Alan Moore, Watchmen (1986)
  • Something instead of anything in affirmative statement: I have done something wrong, something so huge I can’t even see it, something that’s drowning me.
    Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye (1988)
  • Anything instead of something in negative statement: She claimed that after my father died she never again picked up anything more demanding than the morning paper.
    Anne Tyler, The Beginner’s Goodbye (2012)
  • Anything meaning “everything” in affirmative statement: The King’s argument was that anything that had a head could be beheaded, and that you weren’t to talk nonsense.
    Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
  • Neutral conditional: If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.
    Edgar Allan Poe, Marginalia (1846)
  • Conditional with greater certainty: If something very pleasant should happen now, we should think it a delightful month.
    Louisa May Alcott, Little Women (1859)

Quick Quiz

Which suggests that the speaker expects the offer to be accepted?
Choose from these answers
All done!
Which would you use if you expected a negative response?
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Which is correct?
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All done!
Which refers to “everyone”?
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All done!
Which suggests greater certainty?
Choose from these answers
All done!

Did You Know?

Words like sir and madam are generally not capitalized when used to address someone.
Know more:Are Sir, Madam (or Ma'am), and Miss Capitalized?