Non-assertive Pro-forms refer to a group of words or phrases that refer to specific things/persons, but it is not important to mention what.
What Are Non-assertive Pro-forms?
Non-assertive Pro-forms (also called elective pro-forms or elective-existential pro-forms) refer to a group of words or phrases that refer to specific things or persons, but it is not important to say exactly who or what.
Non-assertive words are used when we want to identify any member of some group and mention all of them individually.
When Do We Use Non-assertive Pro-forms?
There are some uncommon non-assertive words that are seldom 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 positive declarative clauses, and have a non-factual meaning. It does not matter which or who.
Either the truth of the positive statement is denied or unknown.
When we use non-assertive words in a statement, we refer to an entity that we do not know exists. Let's compare these sentences:
✗ I called
But this sentence doesn't sound right. Because we know the past tense means the event happened and we are assertive Sally met someone. Therefore using a non-assertive words is wrong.
✓ I called
By using 'somebody' we mean that we know for a fact that Sally met a person, because the sentence is in past tense. So we are sure it happened. That's why we used assertive forms.
Non-assertive Words in Questions
The normal way (aka the unmarked way) of asking the question about the identity of a thing or person is by using non-assertive words. Because we are genuinely asking about the existence of a thing or person that we do not know exists.
However, it is possible to use assertive words in questions that are not genuine questions. Either because we know the answer in our mind or we are simply offering or suggesting something. Let's see some examples:
Using non-assertive words in questions means the existence of the thing/person we are asking about is not asserted.
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 need a drink and know that person exists. This is the unusual way of asking questions.
Let's see another set of examples:
Non-assertive Words in Negative Sentences
Typically, negative sentences usually take non-assertive forms but that is not always the case. But note that there is a distinct difference in meaning between using assertive and non-assertive words.
Non-assertive words often imply an unidentifiable thing or person. Whereas the 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 share their pay 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 appear in comparative clauses.
✓ Martin is nicer than
✗ Martin is nicer than
Non-assertive Words in Conditionals
Conditional clauses naturally express doubt. So it is normal, that in conditional sentences, non-assertive words are used. Except when we want to break this norm and make a marked clause.
If you're tired, sit
If you want
When we use assertive forms in conditional sentences, we actually do not mean to form a condition. We just state it to show surprise and to imply that we already know the outcome. For example:
If you need
Here, the speaker is sure that the audience needs something and is not conditional at all.
Non-assertive Words with Modals
I needn't do
I can't bear to hear
When using assertive words with modals, we are implying that we have a particular identity or entity in our minds. We have some clues. With modals of possibility, both assertive and non-assertive words work, with s slight 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 says that you can become that particular idea that you have in mind. They know what that 'somebody' is.
But with modals of prediction, we can only use assertive words, because we are foreseeing a future and in that future, we are assuming that an event will take place.
Some verbs naturally imply non-assertive use. 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 assertive or non-assertive contexts. 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 some 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