English as a Second Language/A, any, or some


Dear Jed,

Text from English for Starters 7 with the key provided in the Teacher's Book:

"Salah and Omar are camping in the desert. But have they got all they need? They've got (1) a tent, (2) some fuel and (3) some matches. But they haven't got (4) a camping stove. Omar has got sunburn but they haven't got (5) an sun cream. They've got (6) a map but they haven't got (7) a compass.
They are thirsty but they haven't got (8) any water. They've got (9) some food but they haven't got (10) a can opener."

I wonder why the key does not provide an option to use "a" or "any" in 4, 7, and 10 because "any" is used with negative sentences.

The longman dictionary says "<nonassertive> infml a,an, or one: This car hasn't any engine!" So, it is possible to use "any" with singular countable nouns. Pratical English Usage by Michael Swan says "some and any are used with uncountable and plural nouns. They have the same sort of meaning as the indefinite article a/an."

Please help me out.

Thanks & best regards,
Antoine Ghannoum

Dear Antoine,

For (4), 'any' is just about possible if you wish to emphasise how strange the lack of camping stove is, but most native speakers would use 'a' there. Bear in mind that this exercise seems to be designed for students at a fairly elementary stage. It would be confusing for them to be expected to understand the finer nuances at this stage.

In (5), the determiner should be 'any'.

The situation in (7) and (10) is very similar to that in (4). Most native speakers would naturally use 'a'. Swan's advice is sound.

Best wishes,


English as a Second Language

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Jed Webb


I can assist with questions about English grammar (syntax, morphology, pronunciation and spelling)from learners taking such examinations as TOEFL, IELTS, FCE and CAE and other internationally recognised tests.


I have over forty years of experience in the teaching of modern languages, twenty-four of them in the Teaching of English as a Second Language. I have been an examiner for FCE, BEC and IELTS examinations, and a teacher trainer on courses leading to the Trinity College Certificate in TESOL.

The Philological Society The International Phonetic Association The College of Teachers The International Association of Teachers of EFL The Royal Society of Arts (Fellow)

British Journal of Language Teaching, Vol XIX Nos I and II Education Today, Vol 41, Nos 1 and 3 Co-Author: Nix and Webb (1984) 'Creative English', Bad Homburg: Verlag Gehlen Contributor: Nix and Riederer (1973), 'Bottoms Up', Bad Homburg: Verlag Gehlen Rosenau and Nix, (1979), 'Look it up', Bad Homburg: Verlag Gehlen Nix and Ringholz, 'English in Projects', Bad Homburg: Verlag Gehlen

BA (English), University of Durham. Qualified Teacher Status, UK Department of Education and Science Further and Adult Education Teacher's Certificate, City and Guilds of London Institute ACP(TESOL), College of Preceptors Dip TESOL, Trinity College, London Dip Ed (ELT), Exeter University ACP (Management Studies in Education), College of Teachers Certificate of Proficiency in the Phonetics of English, International Phonetic Association

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I have taught: General and Business English classes for: Alcan, Allianz Versicherung, Robert Bosch, Daimler-Benz, Ford, Hewlett Packard, Kodak, Mövenpick, Radiomobil (O2), Siemens, Unilever. TOEFL and FCE classes for: eská Spoitelna,SOB, Czech Ministry of Trade, Czech Statistics Office.

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