Indefinite Pronouns in English Grammar

Indefinite Pronouns
 
Grammar
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Pronouns

Indefinite Pronouns in English Grammar

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Indefinite Pronouns

Not all English pronouns only refer to a person or a thing we know; they can refer to people all around the world, make a sentence negative or refer to ambiguous things; that is the job of indefinite pronouns. These are among the most useful and widely-used pronouns.

Good to Know!

Indefinite pronouns referring to people end in -body or -one, and indefinite pronouns which refer to things end in -thing.

Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns refer to people or things without saying exactly who or what they are.
Note that these pronouns do not have a specific gender and can be singular, plural, or both. Let us take a look at these pronouns.

Singular Indefinite Pronouns

These pronouns are always followed by a singular verb even if they refer to a number of people/things. You can find these pronouns in the following table:

Singular Indefinite Pronouns Referring to People

These pronouns generally refer to people:

Indefinite Pronoun Meaning
Anybody/Anyone A person, no matter who
Nobody/No one No person
Everybody/Everyone All people
Somebody/Someone A person
Indefinite Pronoun Type
Anybody/Anyone Elective
Nobody/No one Negative
Everybody/Everyone Universal
Somebody/Someone Assertive

The different types of indefinite pronouns will be explained later in this article.

Now take a look at the following examples:

Everybody knows that Toby and Angela are dating .

You know that ‘everybody’ means all people and it does not refer to the same person, yet we use a singular verb after it; that is why it is called a singular indefinite pronoun.

Does anybody want a drink ?

Difference between the Words One and Body

In all of the pronouns above, the two words have the same meaning; anybody has the same meaning as anyone, but there is a small difference between them. In general, the indefinite pronouns ending in ‘one’ (anyone, everyone, no one) are a little more formal, and therefore you can use them in writing.

Singular Indefinite Pronouns Referring to Things

The following indefinite pronouns all have ‘thing’ at the end, so it is easy to remember that they all refer to things. You can see them in the table below:

Indefinite Pronoun Meaning Type
Anything A thing, no matter what Elective
Nothing No things Negative
Everything All things Universal
Something A thing no matter what Assertive

Let’s see some of these indefinite pronouns in some examples:

I’ve been friends with Sarah for over ten years and nothing surprises me about her .

If you ever need something , you can count on me .

Referring Back to an Indefinite Pronoun

When we refer back to an indefinite pronoun, we normally use a plural pronoun:

Everybody watched the show . They really liked it .

Let's tell somebody that we're ready to go . They have been waiting a long time .

Making Possessive

Normally we cannot add 's' to pronouns to make them possessives. But we can add 's to an indefinite pronoun to make a possessive:

They were staying in somebody's house .

Is this anybody's wallet ?

the Adverb 'Else'

We use 'else' after indefinite pronouns to refer to other people or things in addition to something already mentioned.

All the family came , but no one else .

If Manuel can't come , we'll ask somebody else .

I think this is somebody else's wallet .

Singular Indefinite Pronouns about Two Things/People

These pronouns are used when you have two things/people to talk about. After neither and either you use a singular verb.

Indefinite Pronoun Meaning Type
Either One of the two Elective
Neither None of the two Negative
Both Two things/people together Universal

Let’s have a few examples for these pronouns:

Jim asked me if I wanted tea or coffee and I told him either would be fine .

'Either' means it does not matter which choice.

I wanted to see my friends and go to a park , but neither seemed interesting to me .

'Neither' means not one nor the other of two things.

I can never choose between cats and dogs ; I think both are equally lovely .

Singular or Plural Verb?

'Neither of' and 'either of' are followed by a plural noun or pronoun and a singular or plural verb. A plural verb is more informal.

Neither of my parents speaks / ‌speak a foreign language .

Singular Indefinite Pronouns for Uncountable Nouns

The pronouns in the table below all refer to an amount of something (usually used with uncountable nouns). With these pronouns, we must use singular verb.

Indefinite Pronoun Meaning Type
Enough Sufficient amount Quantifier
Little A small amount Quantifier
Less In comparison, a smaller amount Quantifier
Much A lot Quantifier

Now let’s look at some examples:

Little is known about the virus and we are still trying to develop a vaccine .

I’ve had enough and I want to break up .

If Josh leaves the company , less will be accomplished by the end of the year .

Much as a Negative Maker

We can use 'much' as a negative maker by adding ‘not’ before it.

Not much has happened since I came back from France .

Other Singular Indefinite Pronouns

In the table below you can see the last singular indefinite pronouns.

Indefinite Pronoun Meaning
Another One more of something/someone, or a different thing/person
Other A different person/thing from someone/something mentioned before
Each One person or thing among a group
Indefinite Pronoun Type
Another Alternative
Other Alternative
Each Universal

Now let’s look at some examples:

My son loved his ice cream so much that I decided to buy him another .

There has been a lot of debate about getting married or staying single and I think each has its merits .

Shannon had two dogs ; one was big and friendly , but the other was small and grumpy .

Plural Indefinite Pronouns

Plural indefinite pronouns are always followed by a verb in plural form and are treated as a plural noun. Therefore, the verb after them never takes the third person ‘s’. Note that all of these pronouns can be used both for people and for things, and they are all positive. You can find these pronouns in the following table:

Indefinite Pronoun Meaning Type
Others Other people except from us Alternative
Few A small number Quantifier
Fewer In comparison, a smaller number Quantifier
Many A lot Quantifier
Several A number of people/things, not too many Quantifier

Now let’s see some examples of these pronouns:

I don’t know what others might think about this .

Several were elected .

Singular/Plural Indefinite Pronouns

These pronouns can be followed by both the singular form of verbs or the plural form. Also, all of them refer to people and things.

Indefinite Pronouns Meaning Type
All The entire number/amount Universal
None No people/things Negative
Some An unspecified number/amount Assertive
Any An unknown number/amount Elective
Such Of the type mentioned before Alternative
More A greater number of people/things Quantifier
Most Almost all Quantifier

Now let’s see some examples:

More were ignored .

Most would agree .

I am an immigrant and people here talk to me as such .

The pronoun 'all' can either refer to the whole number or amount or the only the only thing(s). See the examples:

For many countries , all was lost after World War II .

In this example all refers to things (like everything) so it is treated as singular.

You told me your siblings were all unemployed ; is any still looking for a job ?

In this example all refers to people (like everybody) so it is treated as plural.

Types of Indefinite Pronouns

There are different types of indefinite pronouns and each type can be used in a slightly different way. Here we review the types mentioned in tables above; but before that, imagine a list of different items with different features; we explain each type by showing how many items in the list they include:

  • Universal: universal indefinite pronouns, include every item in the list. (i.e. Everybody, Everything, All)
  • Negative: negative indefinite pronouns, include no item in the list. (i.e. Nobody, Nothing, None)
  • Elective: elective indefinite pronouns (also called Elective/Dubitative existential), include one item in the list, no matter what the features are. (i.e. Anybody, Anything, Any)
  • Assertive: assertive indefinite pronouns (also known as Assertive existential) include one item in the list with a special feature that we do not know or mention. (i.e. Somebody, Something, Some)
  • Alternative: alternative indefinite pronouns include an item or items in the list other than a preselected one. (i.e. Another, Other)
  • Quantifier: quantifiers include a specific amount or numbers of items in the list. (i.e. much, more, less, few)

Indefinite Pronouns in Negative Sentences

Using indefinite articles in negative sentences is a bit tricky. You are not allowed to use every pronoun in a negative sentence. The table below can help you understand these boundaries better:

Type of Pronoun Subject Object Negative Maker
Universal
Negative (only double negative)
Elective
Assertive
Alternative
Quantifier

In this table you can see if you are allowed to use each pronoun in a negative sentence depending on their grammatical role (being the subject or object of the sentence). It means that for example you cannot use universal indefinite pronouns (like everybody) in a negative sentence (neither as the subject or object). Take a look at this example:

Everybody is not happy .

This example is wrong because ‘everybody’ (a universal indefinite pronoun) is used in a negative sentence.

What Is a Negative Marker?

A negative marker is a word that can make a sentence negative. As you can see in the table above ‘negative indefinite pronouns’ are negative markers. It means that using them in a sentence can make the sentence negative (without using not). Take a look at this example:

Nobody was there .

By using ‘nobody’ (a negative indefinite pronoun) this sentence gets a negative meaning.

You should know that, using another negative marker in this sentence is grammatically wrong:

Nobody was not there .

Double Negative

In colloquial language sometimes negative indefinite pronouns as object are used in already negative sentences to show emphasis. This is called a double negative:

I don’t want to talk to no one .

How to Make Sentences with Indefinite Pronoun Negative?

There are different ways to change a positive sentence with an indefinite pronoun to a negative sentence depending on the grammatical role of your indefinite pronoun:

  • When indefinite pronoun is the subject of the sentence:

In this case the best way is to use a negative indefinite pronoun depending on what the pronoun is referring to (a thing or person). Take a look at these example:

Everybody is happy . ≠ Nobody is happy .

Something has changed . ≠ Nothing has changed .

  • When indefinite pronoun is the object of the sentence:

In this case you can either use a negative pronoun in a positive sentence or an elective pronoun in a negative sentence (both are correct and have the same meaning). Take a look at this example:

I invited everybody .

I didn’t invite anybody .

I invited nobody .

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Demonstratives Pronouns

A demonstrative pronoun is a pronoun mostly used to point to something based on its distance from the speaker. In English these pronouns have four forms.

Impersonal Pronouns

An impersonal pronoun does not refer to a specific person or thing. These pronouns help us talk about a thing or person without mentioning what or who they are.

Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns show ownership and indicate that something belongs to a particular someone. With their help, we can make a possessive phrase shorter.

Dummy Pronouns

Dummy pronouns function grammatically as other pronouns, except they do not refer back to a person or thing like normal pronouns do.

Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive Pronouns are used to show that the subject and object of a sentence are exactly the same person or thing or there is a direct connection between them.

Interrogative Pronouns

There are five interrogative pronouns in English. Each one is used to ask a specific question about people or objects.