Do you play a/any musical instrument?

SugarSpunSister

Member
Spanish- Argentina
1) Do you play a musical instrument?
2) Do you play any musical instruments?
3) Do you play any musical instrument?

Hi! I think 1) and 2) mean the same, whereas would mean to ask whether you can play any musical instrument (in the world or the band, let's say). Am I right? Also, I'm still in the dark about grammar rules concerning use of "a" instead of "any" in questions. If you could provide an answer or a reference to a reliable source, I'd be more than obliged.
 
  • Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    There is virtually no difference in meaning between 1 and 3.
    There's no difference in meaning between 2 and the others, except that the questioner is obviously familiar with versatile musicians who play more than one instrument.
     

    Barque

    Senior Member
    Tamil
    They can all mean the same. Sentences 2 and 3 can also have a different meaning from Sentence 1. It depends on the context and situation.
    I'm still in the dark about grammar rules concerning use of "a" instead of "any" in questions. If you could provide an answer or a reference to a reliable source, I'd be more than obliged.
    That's a very broad question. If you could give us a context for your example sentences, we could tell you if one is better than the others.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    In AE, in my opinion, (1) and (2) are common but (3) is not. It is not incorrect, but is less common.

    Also to my ears (3) assumes you only play one, more than (1) does.
     

    Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    If you made the assertion "I can play any musical instrument", that would mean that there are no instruments that you can't play. But when it's in a question, like your #3, it loses this sense and "any" becomes indefinite, as in #2.

    ("I can play any musical instruments" doesn't sound right to me, but becomes acceptable if you tack on a restrictive relative clause, such as "... that you want me to.")
     
    Number 2) strikes my ears as strange. Not grammatically of course, but in the context. I put it as a probability factor. If I ask Do you have any biscuits, please?, then I find natural to use the plural, because it is either someone has no biscuits or they have more than one biscuit. Chances that someone has only one biscuit are very low and residual. But in the case of playing instruments it is more probable that someone could decently play one instrument than more than one, so I find natural to ask "do you play any instrument?" I understand what Keith said at #2, but it still sound a bit strange to me. May this be a BE-AE difference? Besides, it could very well be a personal thing, as I would always say "Any chance that you can come to my house tonight?" rather than "Any chances that you can come to my house tonight?".
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    For me, (2) is the natural question. I accept that it may seem to presume an answer with more than one instrument, but it is a more open question than (1) or (3), which carry the implication that you are expecting only a single-instrument ability.
     
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