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The particle demo can follow an interrogative word to form a free-choice expression such as 'anyone,' 'anything,' and 'anywhere.'

Essential Japanese Grammar by Masahiro Tanimori and Eriko Sato, page 167.

Some provided examples with 何でも:

食べ物はだいたい何でも食べられます。

I can eat almost any (kind of) food.

飲み物は何でもいいです。

Any drink is fine.


When followed by mo, the meaning of the phrase is GENERALIZED, meaning something like 'every, all' if the predicate is affirmative. However, it means 'no, none, not at all, not any' if the predicate is negative. Phrases consisting of INTERROGATIVE + mo occur more often with the negative than with the affirmative. In the affirmative, phrases of the type INTERROGATIVE + de (COPULA GERUND) + mo are often used instead.

Basic Japanese by Samuel E. Martin and Eriko Sato, chapter 8.1

Provided example with 何でも:

何でも食べました。

I ate anything.

Although the above translation is grammatical, 'everything' could also have been used.


In another book, I came across the following sentence:

あの子は頭がいいから、なんでもすぐ覚える。

That child is so bright he learns everything quickly.

Essential Japanese Vocabulary by Akira Miura, 頭 head.

In this case, 'everything' is used instead of 'anything.' Both are possible, though.

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Please consider the more literal translation of 何でも as "whatever it is" to make sense of this situation. This is not a translation you will want to actually use, but it can help clarify how 何でも works in Japanese.

"飲み物は何でもいいです" can be understood as "Whatever the drink is, it is fine", which becomes "Any drink is fine" in more natural-sounding English.

"あの子は頭がいいから、なんでもすぐ覚える" can be understood as "Because this child is bright, he learns quickly whatever it is [that he is trying to learn]."

The fact that the English translation is sometimes 'anything' and sometimes 'everything' is more a reflection of how the English language works rather than something intrinsic to the Japanese language, I believe.

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