Some phrases and expressions can stump even the most fluent of speakers.
For instance, plenty of English speakers will say, “I could care less” when they are trying to show their indifference towards something.
However, that is wrong. You see, what “I could care less” says is that you sort of care, at least to the extent that you could afford to care less.
The correct expression is “I couldn’t care less.” This expression says that you are so indifferent that it is impossible to reduce how much you care about the situation.
Another phrase that can stump many speakers is “if any.” It can be tricky to figure out where to place this expression in a sentence and how to use it both in speech and in writing.
How to use “if any”?
There are two main types of “if any.” There is the normal one that comes up in ordinary conditional sentences, and there is the interjectory one that is used to highlight a particular point.
The one that comes up in conditional statements isn’t that interesting and is pretty straightforward, so we won’t waste a lot of time on it.
However, the interjectory one is the one we want to look into a bit.
The interjectory “if any” is used to indicate that the bare minimum of something will probably not happen or will not come to pass.
And, when using it, there are two things you want to keep in mind. Firstly, “if any” creates emphasis in your sentence, but this emphasis works best when you use contrast.
Secondly, “if any” should follow the noun that it is emphasizing, something we will discuss shortly.
Starting with “if any” the conditional
Let’s get the simplest case out of the way.
“If any” can act just like any other conditional statement, and it will follow the rules of conditional statements.
If any man or woman should have a reason why these two should not be wed, speak now or forever hold your peace.
I wasn’t sure if any book could help me solve the question.
If any guards had seen them come in, the robbers wouldn’t have had the chance to steal all that money.
The interjectory “if any”
Now, let’s look at the actually interesting case.
When used as an interjectory statement, “if any” highlights how little there is of something.
The seminar had very few key takeaways, if any.
What the above example is saying is that “the number of key takeaways offered by the seminar was so small that there might have been no key takeaways to speak of at all.”
For some of you, this interpretation might be confusing, but I promise it will make sense in a minute.
So, there are a few things I want you to notice about the above example.
For starters, “if any” is preceded by a comma, and this is because of its status as an interjectory statement.
He knew a small number of professors, if any, who could solve this problem.
In this example, “if any” is surrounded by a comma on both sides. Again, this is because of its status as an interjectory statement.
The second thing to notice is that “if any” came right after the noun it was modifying, which was “takeaways” in the above example.
This can be tricky because there are many ways to get this wrong. Let’s look at a few examples.
What were, if any, the key takeaways of the seminar?
In the above example, “if any” precedes the noun it is supposed to refer to, “the key takeaways.” So, the entire sentence feels strange when read, and even though the confusion here is minimized, there are other circumstances where things can get messy.
He saw, if any, several ships but few tanks.
The above example is a mess. What is “if any” supposed to refer to? It can’t refer to the ships because he saw several of them, so it has to refer to the tanks.
But, this isn’t only bad writing. It is the sort of writing that would cause any reader to stop dead in their tracks trying to decipher what you just wrote, and that is just not what you want.
The third thing to notice is that there was some contrast. In other words, the sentence itself asserts that there were some takeaways from the seminar, albeit them being very few.
It is the interjectory “if any” that casts doubt on the initial statement.
You see, “if any” is a way for the speaker to sort of backtrack, to say that there was so little or few of something that there might have been none at all. It’s a way of doubting the initial statement.
This is why the following example is wrong.
He saw no benefits, if any.
In this example, there is no contrast. The main sentence already asserts that there were no benefits, so the “if any” neither adds any new information nor casts any doubt on the statement.
However, “if any” doesn’t have to only cast doubt. It can be used to show that even the minimum of something will be sufficient. The following two examples will explain this better.
The benefits, if any, of this project could have a major upside.
Here, although the speaker might have doubts about the existence of benefits, they are asserting that any benefit whatsoever, no matter how small, would still have a major upside.
The emphasis here is on the upside potential of even the smallest benefit.
The benefits, if any, are paltry compared to the risks involved.
Alternatively, this example shows a case where the speaker isn’t sure that a project has any benefits.
The emphasis here is on the lack of benefits and on the fact that even if there were benefits, they don’t compare to the risks.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.