never steal anyone's car

This is the place to post questions and discussions on usage and style. The members of the Wordwizard Clubhouse will also often be able to help you to formulate that difficult letter.
Post Reply

never steal anyone's car

Post by navi » Thu Feb 02, 2017 6:09 am

1) I would never steal someone's car.
2) I would never steal anyone's car.

Is there a real difference in the meanings of these sentences?
What is it?

Gratefully,
Navi.
Post actions:

Re: never steal anyone's car

Post by tony h » Thu Feb 02, 2017 1:37 pm

I was going to say "no difference" but can't help being brought to the phrase: "he isn't an anyone. he's a someone."

There is a nuance that someone indicates a connection with a person. This very-fine-line thought leads me to this possibility : I wouldn't steal someone car but anyone else's is fair game.

I am not completely convinced by this argument and may revert to : they are the same - no exceptions.
Post actions:
Signature: tony

With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

Re: never steal anyone's car

Post by navi » Thu Feb 02, 2017 2:14 pm

Thank you very much,

I am not sure I am following you.
I think in some cases 'anyone' -if strongly emphasized- could mean 'just anyone'. I think that usage is informal.
A) I won't steal just anyone's car. But guys like him deserve it.

I also think that 'someone' might refer to someone specific if it is emphasized. It would be the equivalent of 'you-know-who'.
B) I saw someone on the way to work today. She's looking better than ever.
B1) I won't steal someone's car because he'll kill me. Anyone else is fair game.

Is this the meaning you are thinking of?

Gratefully,
Navi.
Post actions:

Re: never steal anyone's car

Post by Phil White » Fri Feb 03, 2017 12:42 pm

Traditional grammar requires "some/something/someone" to be used in positive statements and "any/anything/anyone" to be used in negatives and questions. Most native speakers follow this rule intuitively, but not all the time.

Your original sentence has the negative "never", so most people would feel more comfortable with "anyone" in those sentences.

But the rule is not rigidly applied, and we can deliberately use "some" in questions and negatives for a specific effect. Because "some" is used in positive statements, the referent is slightly more concrete:
  • Someone has taken my bag.
    I know that a person has taken my bag.
  • Has anyone taken my bag?
    My bag is missing. A person may have taken it, but I may also have simply lost it.
We can therefore use this subtle distinction for effect.
  • (Looking directly at my sister) Has someone eaten the last banana?
    I have a very good idea that it was my sister who ate the banana.
But as so often, context is everything. The rule above is not as strict as it used to be, and it may not be particularly meaningful if people do not apply it.
Post actions:
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: never steal anyone's car

Post by Phil White » Fri Feb 03, 2017 4:17 pm

Here is another example that occurred to me:
  • Scenario 1:
    I am sitting in the living room. As a family, we keep the fruit in a bowl in the kitchen. I know that there was one banana left:
    "Has anybody eaten the last banana?"
    That could mean several different things, such as that we were saying earlier that the banana is overripe and someone should eat it, and I want to know if anybody has done so. Or I suddenly feel hungry and to save me going to the kitchen to look, I ask whether anybody has eaten that banana.
  • Scenario 2:
    I go to the kitchen to get the last banana because I feel hungry. There are no more bananas in the fruit bowl:
    "Has somebody eaten the last banana?"
    Again, it could mean a number of things, such as "did somebody eat it or was it thrown away?" or "I quite fancied that banana, and now somebody appears to have eaten it, so I shall be in a bad mood for the rest of the day."
The differences are subtle, but they are there. But as always, they depend entirely on the discourse context and the speaker intention.
Post actions:
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: never steal anyone's car

Post by BonnieL » Fri Feb 03, 2017 7:21 pm

Why not "I would never steal a car"?
Post actions:

Re: never steal anyone's car

Post by Phil White » Fri Feb 03, 2017 7:24 pm

Brownie points to BonnieL!
Post actions:
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: never steal anyone's car

Post by tony h » Sun Feb 05, 2017 9:16 am

Phil, I always enjoy your answers as they provide a technical description and validation for what I tend to understand from usage.
Post actions:
Signature: tony

With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

End of topic.
Post Reply