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There has been a lot of debate in my D&D group about the specific wording of Dispel Magic which was not resolved by the D&D sage advice column:

Choose one creature, object, or magical effect within range. Any spell of 3rd level or lower on the target ends. For each spell of 4th level or higher on the target, make an ability check using your spellcasting ability. The DC equals 10 + the spell’s level. On a successful check, the spell ends.

Can Dispel Magic remove multiple magical effects on a single target?

The primary issue revolves around the interpretation of the word "any" here. In English the word "any" could mean "any one" or "any of your choice".

I have seen a couple of forum posts suggesting that if three mages each cast Haste on a single target, and you use Dispel Magic on that target, then it will only remove one instance of Haste.

This seems to run counter to the next sentence:

For each spell of 4th level or higher on the target...

The word "each" is not ambiguous in English, however there is an alternate interpretation of this sentence which I included in another question: How *exactly* does Dispel Magic work against higher level spells?

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Dispel Magic can remove every spell on the target

Per Jeremy Crawford, the lead rules developer for Dungeons and Dragons,

Q: Does dispel magic affect all active spells, or just 1?

jCrawford: Dispel magic, if successful, can end every spell on its target.

https://twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/722824165988769795

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The answer by guildsbounty gets Jeremy Crawford’s statement on what dispel magic is supposed to do, which is remove every spell. This is also how I believe the actual rules text should be read, so I want to address the grammatical structure of the sentence, because its construction is a bit awkward and butts up against some oddities in the English language.

You are correct that any refers to a singular thing. However, when any X of a collection Y (here X = spell, Y = spells on the target) does something, or has something done to it, the meaning of this construction in English is for that thing to be done or to happen to all of them. The logic here is that the statment, being true for any of them and not limited in number (e.g. not using any one or similar), it continues to be true for each one in turn.

Ultimately, though, this is hugely context-dependent, and even being a fairly nit-picky grammarian, I struggle to articulate precisely why this statement must be read this way. English doesn’t work in rules, but rather in precedent and pattern, so all I can say is that having done a lot of reading of English rules language, for that sentence from dispel magic to have precisely this sense and no other is how I read the sentence.

For clarity, though, Wizards of the Coast definitely should have used each here rather than any, or perhaps even better, all. If nothing else, not everyone using these rules is a fluent English speaker, and the vagaries of any, each, and all are very common traps for people still learning the language (though really, everyone is “still learning” this language).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ One reason why they might have used "any" instead of "each" or "all" is if the most common scenario is for there to be one or fewer "spells of 3rd level or lower on [a] target", then "any" fits the cardinality better than "each" or "all" which both tend to imply plurality. I can't think of any specific English rule, but would tend towards using "any" myself to reference things that usually have 0 or 1 instances but technically can have more. \$\endgroup\$ – aroth Dec 19 '17 at 11:48
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Choose one creature, object, or magical effect within range. Any spell of 3rd level or lower on the target ends. For each spell of 4th level or higher on the target, make an ability check using your spellcasting ability. The DC equals 10 + the spell’s level. On a successful check, the spell ends.

"Any" here refers to all spells of 3rd level or lower. If it would be a single spell, it would say so. The wording of the core rulebooks are not ambiguous for their natural reading.

See this use of "any", regarding giving orders to a skeleton:

Guard this door, and kill any creature that tries to pass through.

Here, any does not mean a single creature. The dictionary says:

Any as a determiner has two forms: a strong form and a weak form. The forms have different meanings. [...]

Weak form any: indefinite quantities [...]

Warning: We don’t use any with this meaning with singular countable nouns: [;...]

Therefore, since the grammar in the core books (without an errata) is assumed to be correct, this is not the weak form. Onwards to the strong form:

Strong form any meaning ‘it does not matter which’:

We use any to mean ‘it does not matter which or what’, to describe something which is not limited. We use this meaning of any with all types of nouns and usually in affirmative sentences.

So it is not limited to a single spell of 3rd level or lower.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You might want to note that if "any" meant "any one", then dispell magic would be better at dispellling multiple 4th level spells than 3rd level spells, something quite unexpected and surprising. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Dec 18 '17 at 19:14

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