Indefinite Pronouns in English Grammar

Indefinite Pronouns in English Grammar

Indefinite pronouns refer to people or things without saying exactly who or what they are, but they give other information like: entirety, amount, type, etc.

Indefinite Pronouns in English Grammar

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 ?

'Anybody' refers to more than one person ,yet we use a singular helping verb for it.

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.

Everyone liked her . / Everybody liked her .

'Everyone' is more formal , although they are the same in meaning.

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 .

Notice that, ''nothing'' bares a negative meaning it means no things.

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

In the example 'something' refers to 'a thing' , no matter what.

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 .

In this example; 'They' refer back to 'everybody'.

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

Here, in this statement, 'they', that is a plural pronoun, refer back to 'somebody'.

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 .

'S is added to 'somebody' to indicate the possession.

Is this anybody's wallet ?

'S is added to 'anybody' to show the possession.

the Adverb 'Else'

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

All the family came , but no one else .

Here, in this example, 'no one else' refers to other people.

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

In this statement, 'somebody' else refers to another person.

I think this is somebody else's wallet .

Remember, you can even add 's to else to show the possession.

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 .

You can easily define that, '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 .

In this example 'neither' means not one nor the other of two things.

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

The definition of this statement is 'dogs are lovely and cats are lovely too'.

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 .

Using speak is more informal.

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 .

It is important to know that, 'little' is followed by a singular verb.

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

n this example the person who speaks waited as much as possible and she cannot bear anymore.

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

As it is clear by the meaning, the person is comparing two situations, now and the one which occurs when John leaves the company.

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 .

'Not much' is followed by a singular verb because the general rule of 'much' stays the same, even if we add 'not' before it.

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 .

'Another' refers to ice cream and it means 'one more' of it. Remember a pronoun is not followed by a noun.

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

Here, in this example, 'each' means 'both'. Remember a pronoun is not followed by a noun.

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

In this example 'other' refers to another dog apart from the one which was mentioned earlier.

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 .

As you might have guessed 'others' is the same as 'other people'. It refers to more than one person.

Several were elected .

In this example, 'several' is the plural indefinite pronoun that is followed by a plural verb , remember the verb never gets third person singular 's'.

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 .

Now look at this example; 'More was left in the glass'. As you can see 'more' can even be followed by a singular verb that is correct grammatically.

Most agree on this .

As you can guess 'most' refers to a plural noun cause it is followed by a plural verb. Now take a look at this example; 'Most is drunk nowadays.' In this case more refers to 'water' and requires a singular verb.

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

Here, in this example 'such' refers to 'an immigrant'. Now take a look at this sentence; She has bad habits , that I hate such. In this case, 'such' refers to habits which is plural.

The pronoun 'all' can either refer to the whole number or amount or 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 .

Here, in this example, 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 .

'Nobody' is a negative indefinite pronoun, so you must use 'was' instead of 'was not'.

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 .

'Don't' is used to show the emphasis. a double negative is used in here.

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 .

By a little assiduity you understand that 'nobody' is the negative pronoun which can be used instead of ' everybody' to make the sentence negative.

Something has changed . ≠ Nothing has changed .

As you know 'Nothing' is the best negative alternative for 'something'. Remember you use an affirmative verb for negative pronoun 'nothing'.

  • 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 .

Here in this example, a universal indefinite pronoun is used in a sentence with affirmative verb, that bears an affirmative meaning.

I didn’t invite anybody .

Here, a negative verbs is followed by an 'elective indefinite pronoun' which bears a negative meaning.

I invited nobody .

In this case, am affirmative verb is followed by a negative indefinite pronoun which again bears a negative meaning aa the previous example.

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