ENGLISCH/721: Questions to Mrs. Gobbledygook (107) - Nobody or Anybody (SB)


107. Nobody must eat this cake or anybody can eat this cake?

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook "any" is normally used in negative sentences I wonder which of the following two sentences is right or rather what is the difference between these two?

Nobody must eat this cake
Anybody can eat this cake

Milan Burkuta (Czech Republic)


Dear Mr Burkuta

Nearly everybody loves cake (and so do I, by the way) and to tell you the truth, either of your sentences is perfectly correct although they have opposite meanings.

Let's start with the second sentence, "anybody can eat this cake". That means that anybody is free to eat your cake. There is nothing to stop them eating it and nobody is forbidden to eat it. So in fact, it is most probably a fairly large and tasty cake.

Now, for the other sentence, nobody must eat this cake. That means, that everybody is forbidden to eat it. Everybody is prohibited from eating it. Nobody, or no one is allowed to eat it. "You must not" is a very strict prohibition and an indisputable way to say so. For example, "you must not smoke" means "don't smoke" or "stop smoking immediately" and that is what a stewardess would tell you, if you ignore the stop smoking sign during the take off of an airplane.

By the way, speakers of German should notice, that this does not mean "nobody is forced to eat the cake", as many Germans happen to think. Well, anybody can use the prohibition "nobody must" but nobody has to.

Mrs. Gobbledygook

26. February 2007