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navi tasan

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1-He can't see anybody he likes.
2-He can't buy any book he wants.

Aren't these sentences ambiguous:
1a-He can see nobody he likes.
1b-He can't see everybody he likes.

1a-He can buy no book he likes.
1b-He can't buy every book he likes.
 

whl626

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I think all these sentences sound just right.
 

RonBee

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Unfortunately, they are not all English constructions.

1-He can't see anybody he likes.

Absent context, that requires some clarification. Does it mean that person is not allowed (permitted) to see the people he likes or does it mean he is somehow unable to see the people he likes? Does it mean he is not permitted to talk to the people he wants to talk to? Or does it mean he is not allowed to talk to the people he wants to talk to?

2-He can't buy any book he wants.

That also is somewhat ambiguous. Does it mean he is unable to buy any book he wants to buy? Does it mean he is not allowed to buy any book he wants to buy? Is he permitted to buy books he doesn't want? :wink:

Aren't these sentences ambiguous:
1a-He can see nobody he likes.
1b-He can't see everybody he likes.

Does the first sentence mean that he is not allowed to see the people he likes or that he is unable to see the people he likes. Is he permitted to see people he doesn't like? :wink:

Does the second sentence mean that he can (is allowed to) see some of the people he likes but not all of the people he likes or that he cannot (is not allowed to) see any of the people he likes? Or does it mean that he can (is able to) see some of the people he likes but not all of the people he likes or that he cannot (is not able to) see any of the people he likes?

Yes, I think they are ambiguous. :wink:

1a-He can buy no book he likes.
1b-He can't buy every book he likes.

Can he buy books he doesn't like? Can he buy some of the books he likes? (Etc., etc.) :wink:

Absent context, those sentences are quite ambiguous.

:)

[Edited for spelling.]
 

navi tasan

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Thanks RonBee.
This was a rather sobering reply. Indeed without context there is ambiguity as to the meaning of "can". Does it mean "being allowed" or "being able". I hadn't even thought of that. I was thinking about the ambiguity in the meaning of "any" (a very hard word to use properly for at least some non-native speakers).

I can't trust anybody who comes in through that door.
I can't trust just anybody who comes in through that door.
I can trust nobody who comes in through that door.

But, I think you have made your point. Without context even "I" is ambiguous!!
 

RonBee

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navi tasan said:
Thanks RonBee.
This was a rather sobering reply. Indeed without context there is ambiguity as to the meaning of "can". Does it mean "being allowed" or "being able". I hadn't even thought of that. I was thinking about the ambiguity in the meaning of "any" (a very hard word to use properly for at least some non-native speakers).

I really wasn't looking at any particular word but at the entire sentence. In any case, you have given me the opportunity to talk about any.

  • any

    The word any includes everything -- everything, that is, in the category it is being used to modify. If a mother says to her child, "You can't have any candy" the word "any" includes all candy everywhere. The sentence could be rephrased as, "There are no candies you may have" or "All candies are denied to you." The words "no" in the first sentence and "all" in the second sentence are meaningful because "any" has "all" embodied in it. If that mother says to her child, "You can't have any eggs" she is saying that there is no egg anywhere in the universe that he may have. Of course, she is probably not thinking that at the time. ;-)

    If somebody says, "You can't have any books" he is saying, "There is not one book you may have." Practically speaking, however, he is probably saying, "You can't have any of my books."

    You can rephrase any sentence with "any" using either "no" or "all". If that mother tells her child, "You've had enough to eat. You can't have any more" she is saying there is no food he may have and that all foods are being denied to him. Practically speaking, of course, she is saying she isn't going to give him any more. In sum, if you are not going to give somebody any of something that means you are going to give him none of it.

Is there any more that you want to know about "any"?

navi tasan said:
I can't trust anybody who comes in through that door.
I can't trust just anybody who comes in through that door.
I can trust nobody who comes in through that door.

The first and last sentences mean the same thing. I can't trust anybody means the same as I can trust nobody. The second sentence means the person can trust some people but not all people. I can't trust just anybody means the same as I can't trust everybody. The just modifies anybody to make it mean some. In other words, I can't trust just anybody means I can trust some people but not all.

navi tasan said:
But, I think you have made your point. Without context even "I" is ambiguous!!

I don't know if I'd go that far, but I definitely agree with your premise. Just as context gives a word its meaning, context gives a sentence its meaning.

:)
 

navi tasan

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Thanks a lot for this long and detailed reply. I finally got it! I do think the tI am not the only person to have difficulties with this "any" thing. The "just" really changes everything, but when teachers talk about "any", they forget to mention that "just any" practically means "every" and "any" practically means "no".
 

RonBee

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You're welcome. I'm glad you found my reply helpful. I hope I can continue to be of help.

:D
 
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