Visits to this Blog

Sunday, September 25, 2016

EwR Word Usage - The Confusion Between using SOMEONE and ANYONE in a Question

THE PERPLEXITY OF USING
THE WORD "SOMEONE" IN A QUESTION


Imagine that you are sitting in a meeting room with other people, and that you are all waiting for a meeting to begin.  You discover that you have forgotten your pencil, so you ask people that are with you, "Does someone have a pencil that I can borrow?"  The doubt here is whether or not it is correct to use the word "someone" in the previous question.  Or maybe it would be better to say "somebody".  What's more, perhaps you shouldn't use either of these two words since this is a question, and instead you should use the word "anyone".  Even further, the possibility exists to use the word "anybody" in a question as well.  So what do you say in this case?  Which of these four words should you use in the question above?



Let's resolve this dilemma once and for all by considering the following three main points: (1) the differences between "someone and somebody", and "anyone and anybody"; (2) the distinction between using "someone" and "anyone"; and (3) the correctness of using "someone" instead of "anyone" in a question.
 

Regarding the first point, the words "someone" and "somebody" have the same meaning, as do the words "anyone" and "anybody".  The only difference is in the formality of the words "someone" and "anyone".  These two words are generally used in written communication; whereas, the words "somebody" and "anybody" are used in speech.  Remember that written communication is considered to be more formal than oral communication.  Therefore, when you are speaking to others you would use the words "anybody" and "somebody". Think of it in the following way.  

When you refer to another person in an informal way, you are personally speaking to that person and you see their body.  Therefore, this might help you to remember to use the words "somebody" and "anybody".   And in the case of writing, you would use "anyone" and "someone" since "one" refers to another person in a more formal way.




With regard to the second point, a clear distinction can be drawn between the words "someone" and "anyone" based on the principles of limitation and existence.  The word "some" is limited to something more specific that exists than the word "any".  The latter word expresses a lack of constraint and reality.  For example, if you hear a noise in another room and say "Is someone there?", you are probably assuming that the possibility exists that the noise was caused by another specific person; for example, maybe you think there is a robber in your house.  However, if you say "Is anyone there?", you are not considering the existence of another unique person in the other room because maybe there are many people in your house, and it might (or might not) be any one of them.  Instead, in this last particular example, there is no constraint on who might be in the other room, and there is no limit to number of people who might have caused the noiseIn fact, maybe no one is in the other roomMaybe the noise came from somewhere else, and wasn't caused by a person at all.

Keep in mind that the general rule of thumb is that we use "anyone" in a question or a negative statement, and "someone" in a positive statement.  See the following example conversation.

Person A Do you know "anyone" who has a boat?       (question)
Person B:  Yes, I do know "someone" who has a boat.   (positive statement)
    (or)         No, I don't know "anyone" who has a boat.   (negative statement)

Don't forget that the words "anybody" and "somebody" can be used in place of "anyone" and "someone".  The only difference is in the informal usage of the first pair of words versus the formal use in the last pair of words.

Also remember that it is impossible for Person B to say "Yes, I do know "anyone" who has a boat.  This is totally incorrect!


The perplexity of whether or not the word "someone" can be used in the aforementioned question stated by Person A is what we are investigating here.  Therefore, let's continue to this next peculiarity.

 
 
Respecting the third and last point, let's examine whether or not it is correct to use "someone" instead of "anyone" in a questionThe response to this statement is positive, and the reason why shouldn't surprise you.  Let's find out why.

Recall the scenario introduced at the very beginning of this article.  Imagine that you are sitting in a meeting room with other people, and that you are all waiting for a meeting to begin.  You discover that you have forgotten your pencil, so you ask people that are with you, "Does someone have a pencil that I can borrow?"

The question posed from the very beginning was if the word "someone" can be used in the aforementioned question.  The answer simply put is "yes".  However, let's see why it's possible to say "Does someone have a pencil that I can borrow?

Everyone understands that it is always correct to use "anyone" in a question, but maybe you didn't know that it is also okay to use the word "someone".  Here's why.  If you are thinking in a positive way, then you use the word "someone".  On the other hand, if your thoughts are negative then you use "anyone". 

Let's look at the previous example again.  If you say "Does someone have a pencil that I can borrow?", then you believe that there is a possibility that one of the people in the meeting room with you does have a pencil. Maybe you see a pencil on the meeting table or in another person's hand.  You are not sure who the pencil belongs to, but you assume that its owner is probably in the meeting room with you.  "Some" is specific so you say "someone" in this case.

However, if you say "Does anyone have a pencil that I can borrow?", then you are not specifying a particular person because you don't know if there is a person who has a pencil or not.  Maybe you don't see a pencil in the meeting room, so you ask your question in an ambivalent way by using the word "anyone".  "Any" is unspecified, and therefore you say "anyone" in this particular case.  Out of all of the possibilities of people in the meeting room with you, it's feasible that at least one of them might have a pencil, but you don't know for sure.  You have doubts about the existence of a person who has a pencil.

In summary, if you ask a question about another unknown person, and you anticipate that the answer to your question is "yes", then you use the word "someone" in your question ("Does someone have a pencil that I can borrow?").  On the other hand, if you are expecting to get a negative response to your question where the answer is "no", then you use the word "anyone" in your question ("Does anyone have a pencil that I can borrow?"). 

The formal usage of the word "someone" can be substituted by the informal word "somebody".  Likewise, "anybody" can be used instead of "anyone".  The difference is that "someone" and "anyone" are generally used in writing, and "somebody" and "anybody" are used in speech.

Now I would like to conclude by asking my readers the following question.  "Is there anyone who has doubt about using the word "someone" in a question?"  I'm assuming that no one has a doubt about the fact that you can use the word "someone" in a question, and that's why I chose to use the word "anyone" here.

No comments: