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In one of the Japanese classes I attended, I've been taught that while we use 「何も出来ない」to say "He cannot do anything", to say "He can do anything" we use 「何でも出来る」 instead of 「何も出来る」.

Why is there a grammar rule that says 「何も」 is used before negative predicate while 「何でも」 is used before positive predicate? Why do we need additional で particle for the positive predicate?

Is the rule still being followed, and are there any exceptions (something like exceptions to the 全然+negative rule)?

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Side discussion: I've always kind of wondered if でも is better thought of as the ~て form of だ plus the particle も; essentially, the ~ても form of だ. Which would mean 何でも and だれでも are equivalent to 何であっても and だれであっても, respectively. (Which admittedly might not add much in the way of comprehension, but it's another angle from which to attack this one.) –  Derek Schaab Jun 28 '11 at 12:22
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2 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Rather than memorizing edge cases like this one, I think the key here lies in understanding the difference between も and でも in this context.

In positive statements using , the grouping is explicit. In other words, when you say 何も, だれも, どれも, and so on, it's clear through context or prior statements what "every" includes:

ピアノ、ギター、ドラム…彼はどれ{○も/×でも}上手に弾ける。 Piano, guitar, drums…he can play all of them well.

友だちはだれ{○も/×でも}DSを持っている。 All my friends have a DS.

私がお店に入ったとき、彼女はいつ{○も/△でも}いる。 When I enter the store, she's always there.

In negative statements using , you don't have to worry about qualifying the scope of the statement, so 何もできない and だれもいない are sufficient.

With でも, however, the grouping can be left unstated:

こんな簡単な問題はだれ{△も/○でも}解けるよ。 Anyone can solve a simple problem like this.

これで本をいつ{×も/○でも}読める。 With this I can read a book at any time.

娘は好き嫌いが全然なくて、何{×も/○でも}食べてくれる。 My daughter isn't picky at all, and she'll eat anything.

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heys sry regarding the negative statements using も, is it true that even with just も we can leave the grouping unstated? if so what's the difference between ここに誰でもいない vs ここに誰もいない ? –  Pacerier Jun 28 '11 at 17:24
@Pacerier: ここに誰でもいない sounds very unnatural to me, although I'm not sure if there's an actual reason behind this. –  Derek Schaab Jun 28 '11 at 17:58
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This is not a very helpful answer, but: I think you are needlessly complicating a fairly simple grammar rule by looking for an "explanation". There might be some deep and obscure etymological link between the 'も' and 'でも' of 何も/誰も/いつも, but knowing it won't further your understanding of the rule itself.

It would be exactly the same as asking "why is there a grammar rule that says 'any[thing/one/time]' is used with a negative predicate while 'some[thing/one/time]' is used with a positive"...

As you can see, the analogy even holds up for the similarity between the words.

While 何でも出来ない sounds a little strange (but not unthinkable), negative forms with 何でも definitely exist. For example: 何でもないよ。 ("It's nothing").

Note: 全然+positive that you mention is not a "grammatical exception" (at least not yet). As the answers told you, it is a very colloquial use, strongly discouraged in anything more than casual conversation with friends.

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IMO we need to learn languages not by just memorizing the grammar rules and vocabulary, but through understanding them. Like my sensei loved to say, don't simply memorize おはようございます as "good morning" but try to feel the notion of "it's early" that it embodies, so that you won't even attempt to use that greeting when you arrive late at 11AM. –  Lukman Jun 28 '11 at 9:50
@Lukman: I was certainly not advocating rote memorisation and abstract rules. Just saying that trying to break any rule down to sub-atomic level is probably counter-productive... –  Dave Jun 28 '11 at 11:04
"…sub-atomic level…" Ah, so that's why they're called particles… –  Derek Schaab Jun 28 '11 at 12:18
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