What Are Non-assertive Pro-forms?
Non-assertive Pro-forms, also known as elective or elective-existential pro-forms, are a group of words or phrases that refer to specific things or persons without specifying exactly who or what they are. They are used when we want to identify any member of a group without specifying individual members.
When Do We Use Non-assertive Pro-forms?
There are some uncommon non-assertive words that are rarely used. Here is the list:
- anywhen (adverb of time)
- anywhither (adverb of purpose)
- anywhence (adverb of source)
Non-assertive Words in Positive Statements
Stressed 'non-assertive words' are used in affirmative declarative clauses, and have a non-factual meaning. In such cases, the specific identity of the subject may not matter, and the truth of the positive statement may be uncertain or denied. For example:
Non-assertive words are often used in a statement to refer to an entity whose specific identity is unimportant or unknown. Let's compare these sentences:
✗ I called
✓ I called
Non-assertive Words in Questions
The normal way of asking questions about the identity of a person or thing, when we are unsure of their existence or specific identity, is by using non-assertive words. This is because such questions are typically asked to gather information and are not based on any assumptions about the existence or identity of something. The use of non-assertive words in questions shows that the existence of the thing/person we are asking about is not asserted.
Keep in mind that it is possible to use assertive words in questions that are not genuine questions. Either because we already know the answer or we are simply offering or suggesting something.
Here, we do not have anybody in our mind. We are genuinely asking a question.
Here, the speaker assumes and is positive that at least one person will want a drink. This is the unusual way of asking questions.
Let's see another set of examples:
Non-assertive Words in Negative Sentences
Negative sentences usually take non-assertive forms but that is not always the case. Note that there is a difference in meaning between using assertive and non-assertive words. Non-assertive words often imply an unidentifiable thing or person. Whereas assertive words imply an identifiable thing or person.
✓ I went to the bar but there wasn't
✗ I went to the bar but there wasn't
Take a look at another set of examples:
✗ I haven't spoken to
✓ I haven't spoken to
Sometimes, using an assertive word in a negative sentence means the speaker is being sarcastic or is implying something that they do not want to express openly.
Here, the speaker clearly knows who did not pay their share but doesn't want to say who. That's why the speaker is using an assertive word.
Non-assertive Words in Comparative Clauses
Besides negative sentences and interrogatives, non-assertive words can also appear in comparative clauses.
✓ Martin is nicer than
✗ Martin is nicer than
Non-assertive Words in Conditionals
Conditional clauses express doubt. So naturally, non-assertive words are used in these clauses. Except when we want to break this norm and make a marked clause. For example:
If you're tired, sit
If you want
Non-assertive Words with Modals
I needn't do
I can't bear to hear
Both assertive and non-assertive words can be used with modals of possibility, although with a subtle difference in meaning:
You can become
Here, the possibilities are endless. That 'anybody' can mean so many things. The speaker doesn't have a pattern or entity in their mind.
You can become
But here, the speaker implies that you can become that particular idea that you have in mind. They know what that 'somebody' is.
Some verbs naturally require non-assertive words. Therefore, they need a non-assertive pronoun/determiner.
I doubt if it'll make
(Doubt is a verb that needs non-assertive words.)
(Expect is a verb that needs assertive words.)
Factual vs. Non-factual Meaning
A sentence will be spoken in an assertive or non-assertive context. Assertive forms (such as the 'some-series words') have factual meaning and non-assertive words are related to non-factual meanings (or non-fulfillment or potentiality).
In the table below, you can see the summary of common assertive and non-assertive words:
The difference between these two options is associated to the matter of seeing the caller as specific (somebody) or non-specific (anybody).
Assertive words in a context show a positive attitude of the speaker toward the context, whereas non-assertive words show a neutral or negative attitude.
- What Are Non-assertive Pro-forms?
- When Do We Use Non-assertive Pro-forms?
- Non-assertive Words
- Non-assertive Words in Positive Statements
- Non-assertive Words in Questions
- Non-assertive Words in Negative Sentences
- Non-assertive Words in Comparative Clauses
- Non-assertive Words in Conditionals
- Non-assertive Words with Modals
- Factual vs. Non-factual Meaning