Conditional sentences

Hi everyone,
One of my colleagues recently came upon a grammar rule about conditional sentences. It is in NEW HEADWAY INTERMEDIATE, Student’s Book. The rule says:
“We generally use ANY after if.”
Two examples are given straight after the rule:

  1. If you need anything, just ask.
  2. If something is a hundred years old, that’s pretty old.

Now, being a teacher myself, I must admit it confused me a little bit because one of the examples does not follow the rule. According to that rule, the second example should be “If anything is…” and it sounds wrong to me. Which is more, according to other standard rules the first one could also be “If you need something…”

Perhaps a native speaker can give us an explanation because we couldn’t find such in the grammar books.
Thanks a lot!

Hi Daniela,

Like all grammar books this one uses that catchall word generally just in case!

To my mind the sentence If you want anything/If you want something are both acceptable but there is a difference. If you want anything suggests to me - it doesn’t matter what it is.

If you want something suggests a particular thing.

I can’t imagine how generally fits this so-called rule because the two different words have different meanings.


Thank you, Alan!
The trouble is that students take these rules for granted, no matter the word generally.
The difference between “If you need anything.” and “If you need something.” is clear. The problem is that the rule puts some limits. The second example, though, remains quite out of the rule, doesn’t it? I myself would never say “If anything is a hundred years old, that’s pretty old.” But when the students learn the rule, they will certainly do the sentence this way. Do you think the same difference between anything (no matter what) and something (something particular) can refer to this very sentence. Can you possibly say “If anything is a hundred years old…” Sounds a bit odd to me.

Thank you, Jamie (K). I like the anecdote :slight_smile: In fact, a situation like that was almost next to the reality, because the stores were really empty and people wished there was not something, but ANYTHING in there.