English learners are often confused by the words “anything” and “something.” This is understandable because they seem to have approximately the same meaning. However, they are in fact used quite differently.

In this lesson, I will show you how to use “anything” and “something.” I’ll also explain related words, such as “nothing” and “everything.”

A Basic Overview: Anything vs Something

To put it as simply as possible, “something” is used in positive sentences and “anything” is used in negative ones. For example:

  • I’m going to make something to eat.
  • We don’t have anything to eat.

Because the first sentence is positive, we use “something.” The second sentence is negative (note “don’t”) and so we use “anything.”

Here are some more examples:

I bought something at the shop.They didn’t have anything at the shop.
Can you bring me something to stand on?There isn’t anything I can stand on.
There’s something in the attic.There isn’t anything in the attic.

As you can see, when we use negative words or ideas (didn’t, isn’t, etc), then we use “anything” and with positive sentences we use “something.”

Here are some more examples:

Other Rules for Anything vs Something

The above rule is the most important but there are others to consider. We can use “anything” after the word “if”:

  • Please tell me if there’s anything I can do.

We could use “something” here but the meaning is slightly different. In this case, “something” means one specific but unnamed thing. It would actually be a bit strange. Typically, we would use “anything.”

Part of the reason is that “any” is non-specific. It means “it doesn’t matter what one.” Indeed, we often use “anything” to mean “a thing” when we don’t really care what that thing is. For example:

  • A: I’m hungry.
  • B: I’ll cook for you. What do you want?
  • A: Oh, I don’t know. Anything will do.

In this case, “anything” means that the speaker doesn’t care what they eat. They’re hungry enough that they don’t mind.

The two words are used pretty much interchangeably in some questions. For example:

  • Is anything/something wrong?
  • Do you want anything/something to drink?
  • Can you hear anything/something?

Grammar Rules for Something and Anything

As you can see from my examples above, the words “anything” and “something” are singular in form. Even when they might refer to multiple items, we still treat them as grammatically singular. This affects subject-verb agreement. For example:

  • Something is wrong. (not Something are wrong.)
  • Is anything the matter? (not Are anything the matter?)

Make sure that the verb attached to this noun is in the right form.

The rules above also refer to related words, meaning those that begin “some-“ or “any-.” For example:

  • Somewhere
  • Someone
  • Somebody
  • Some
  • Anywhere
  • Anyone
  • Anybody
  • Any

For example, we use positive and negative this way:

  • My company is looking to hire someone for the reception desk.
  • My company isn’t looking to hire anyone right now.
  • I bought some plants.
  • I didn’t buy any plants.

If the sentence is positive, then we use “some-.” If it is negative, we use “any-.”

Nothing and Everything

We also have the words “nothing” and “everything,” as well as their related terms:

  • No one
  • Nowhere
  • Nobody
  • Everyone
  • Everywhere
  • Everybody

These are sometimes confused by English learners. In particular, they often use “nothing” instead of “anything”:

  • INCORRECT: I don’t want nothing to eat.

This is called a “double negative” and it is wrong because we have used both “don’t” and “nothing.” Instead, we should say:

  • CORRECT: I don’t want anything to eat.

Aside from that, we use “no-” to say that there is none of something and “every-” to talk about all of something. For example:

  • I knocked on the door but no one was home. (=zero people were in the house)
  • I checked and everyone is okay. (=all of the people are fine)

Common Mistakes

Here are some common errors that English learners make with these words:

Does someone mind if I put on some music?Does anyone mind if I put on some music?
Anything is wrong here.Something is wrong here.
Anything needs to be done about the leaky roof.Something needs to be done about the leaky roof.
I didn’t have something to drink.I didn’t have anything to drink.
Are anything wrong with this?Is anything wrong with this?

Finally, here’s a quick grammar test related to the issue of “something vs anything”:

grammar test about something vs anything

Post your answers in the comments and I’ll let you know whether you’re right or not.