By Ian Liu Rodrigues

2014-11-25 12:20:02 8 Comments

I received an e-mail from a person thanking me for my help when I had traveled to Germany. I would like to start my answer with the following phrase. Is it correct?

I'm glad I was of any help!

I do not need to be extremely formal, that's why I put the exclamation mark.


@FumbleFingers 2014-11-25 14:18:07

No, you can't say that, because in such contexts any is a negative polarity item.

1: I don't have any money
2: I have some money
3: ? I don't have some money (very unlikely)
4: * I have any money (not valid)

Thus OP could reasonably say "I'm sorry I was not of any help", with explicit negation. Or more subtly, by introducing a conditional element "I'm glad if I was of any help". Note that although the negative polarity doesn't seem to be so "absolute" in conditional contexts, many native speakers would say "I'm glad if I was of some help" in that last example.

@Araucaria 2016-03-14 14:22:45

It would further improve your very helpful answer if you added that NPIs also occur in interrogative information questions (as opposed to interrogatives functioning as requests, or suggestions): Do you have any ideas?, for example.

@FumbleFingers 2016-03-14 15:04:10

@Araucaria: I know I picked up the term negative polarity item from John Lawler here on ELU, but obviously when I posted this I couldn't [be bothered to] find a similar earlier question featuring his answer. One has been identified now though, so I'm for closevoting.

@Araucaria 2016-03-14 15:14:18

... Hold on a sec, there's till no reference with regard to NPIs about Questions. Interrogatives are an environment, like conditional antecedents, where we expect to find NPI's. So don't vote to close, but perhaps update your answer! Because the venerable Lawler's does not have this info in, and he's not generally up for updating his posts.

@FumbleFingers 2016-03-14 15:34:13

@Araucaria: But he does include a link to (his own) summary of Negative Polarity Items (illustrated with not) - complete with a list of Negative 'Triggers' (illustrated with any). If all similar NPI questions were closed in favour of that one we could treat it as the "canonical" question for the usage. I don't suppose John would object if someone cut & pasted the entirety of his linked page into an answer there (accredited, obviously) - but even if that might be a bit ott, it could still be useful to give a slightly shorter summary on that page.

@Araucaria 2016-03-14 15:35:34

Which of the several pages that JL addresses NPIs on are we talking about? (He never seems to mention interrogatives, when he discusses NPIs.)

@FumbleFingers 2016-03-14 15:48:47

@Araucaria: John's answer on the question cited in dup vtc's above has only a single link, to his own 1-page doc entitled NPIs.pdf. The second of 4 types of "Negative Trigger", headed Questions (overt and embedded) gives three examples Did you see anybody? How does anybody stand this? I wonder how anybody stands this.

@Araucaria 2016-03-14 15:50:47

Yes, but as you rightly say, it isn't written in any of the answers - which, it would be better if it did ...

@FumbleFingers 2016-03-14 16:06:27

@Araucaria: I'm acutely aware that you're more au fait with such formal classification than me, but would you have thought to mention embedded questions in this context? I certainly wouldn't! All I'm saying is practically everything relevant to the issue seems to be either on the actual ELU page, or just one click away. And I think there would be no harm at all in extending John's answer text (or posting another) to include any particularly important points that should be made even more "visible". I'm all for reducing the total number of closely-related questions still kept open.

@Araucaria 2016-03-14 16:17:26

Yes, but I'd have avoided the issue in a short answer like yours by just saying interrogative clauses. However, I still haven't seen which of John's differently purposed NPI posts you're talking about. One click away wouldn't be considered adequate for any other stack answer (you'd just get reprimands warning of link rot). But it would take you about ten words to add interrogatives to your answer here! I'm not keen on fiddling with JL's posts, unless it's a typo.

@FumbleFingers 2016-03-14 16:27:26

@Araucaria: Oh. Does my link to NPIs.pdf in the comment 4 above this one not work for you? It does for me. Anyway, my feeling is that since this question doesn't directly ask, for example, What are NPIs and Negative Triggers?, it would be a bit overbearing to throw in additional background information that doesn't directly relate to the question as asked. Unless the question is being "groomed" to be "canonical", in which case I'd say that original one is a better candidate.

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