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I recently came across these two forms of the following sentence:

Bitte sagen Sie uns Bescheid, wenn Sie irgendeine Frage haben

Bitte sagen Sie uns Bescheid, wenn Sie irgendwelche Fragen haben

Since "irgendeine" also means "any" which in english would be plural, why does "Frage" stay as a singular?

11

The prefix "irgend-" means "any". It normally is combined with question words, like "irgendwo" (anywhere), "irgendwann" (at any time; "wann" = when), irgendwer (anyone; "wer" = who) or, as in your second example, "irgendwelche" ("welche" = which). However, for whatever reason, the latter is only used in the plural form; in the singular form instead of the singular "welcher"/"welche"/"welches" an indefinite article ("ein"/"eine") is used, so you get "irgendein"/"irgendeine". Since the article is singular, of course it's used only if the following word is singular. The plural of "irgenein" is "irgendwelche".

Note that the meaning changes in the obvious way whether you use the singular or plural form (although in your example, it's not obvious: Whoever says "wenn Sie irgendeine Frage haben", will probably not complain if you have actually more than one question). For example

Nehmen Sie sich irgendein Buch

means you should take exactly one book (but it doesn't matter which), while

Nehmen Sie sich irgendwelche Bücher

means you may take several books.

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I'm not quite sure, whether any is really definitely plural in English. How about anyone? Or: do you know any book about geology? (I admit this sounds rather unusual.) Isn't rather any plural most of the time, but can be singular also?

In much the same way irgendein/-e is any(singular) and irgendwelche is any(plural).

As a native speaker I must confess I'm more used to the second case, the first one sounds more colloquial and/or dialectal maybe.

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  • Yes, "any" can certainly be singular in English: "Do you have any idea how much the ticket costs?" – j_random_hacker Jul 18 '15 at 13:04
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The grammatical number of "any" depends on the word thereafter. After all, it's an adjective. (Although, in English, one can't tell the difference.)

In German, "irgendeine" can only be followed by singular - notice that the second part of the word means "one". Principally, that still doesn't tell us anything about its translation.

Additionally, "any" is etymologically related to "one", too.

En passant: The German "Polizei" is singular, while the English "police" is plural - even if closely related.

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