anyone

azz

Senior Member
armenian
"Can anyone help me?"
Isn't this sentence ambiguous? Can't it have both these meanings:

1. Is there anyone at all who can help me?
2. Can just anyone help me?

Are 1 and 2 both correct?
 
  • la grive solitaire

    Senior Member
    United States, English
    Hi azz,

    Depending on intonation and which word is emphasized, your sentence no. 1 could have different meanings:

    CAN anyone help me? (Is it even possible for anyone to help me?)
    Can ANYONE help me? (Is there someone, anyone who can help me? = 1. Is there anyone at all who can help me?)
    Can anyone HELP me? (Help, help, help me!)
    Can anyone help ME? (I've been waiting and waiting and it's my turn now.)

    However, no. 2 means something different:

    "Can just anyone help me?" means that the speaker needs help and is asking whether he/she needs specialized, particular help or if "just anyone" will do, will be able to help.
     

    azz

    Senior Member
    armenian
    Thanks La grive solitaire,
    But intonation aside, can't the first sentence have two distinct meanings?

    -Can anyone help me?
    One possible answer: -Oh yes, anyone can help you.
    Another possible answer: -Yes. There is one person who can help you.


    A better example would be:
    -Can anyone join this club?
    One possible answer: -Yes. Anyone can join this club.
    In this case "Can anyone..." would be the same as: "Can just anyone..."
    Another possible answer: -No. We don't take new members.
     

    la grive solitaire

    Senior Member
    United States, English
    Yes, your sentence can have two different meanings, and in English, the word(s) you emphasize determines the way the sentence will be understood.
     

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Minority report.
    (1) is an almost despairing cry for help. It is simple and unambiguous, and would typically follow (if you were capable) a first, unanswered, question of "Can anyone help me?" - or a cry of "Help!".
    (2) is not a normal construction; I am not sure what you mean. Ah, I see other comments. I suppose "Can just anyone help me?" could be a quizzical question you might ask because you think that you need specialist help and you know that this idiot who has answered the phone is a generalist.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    azz said:
    "Can anyone help me?"
    Isn't this sentence ambiguous? Can't it have both these meanings:

    1. Is there anyone at all who can help me?
    2. Can just anyone help me?

    Are 1 and 2 both correct?
    Yes, it is potentially ambiguous. It could mean "is there any single one person out there who can help me" or "is it true that no matter which person came along would be able to help me", eg "can anyone help me or does it have to be a supervisor". In absence of reason to believe otherwise you would assume the first.
     

    Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    If you wish to add more desperation and emphasize the first meaning, you might say "Can't anyone help me?"

    Can't anyone help me explain why? (It's bedtime and I cannot think of a reason now).
     
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