Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns refer to people or things without saying exactly who or what they are. In this lesson, we will learn more about these pronouns.

Intermediate
"Indefinite Pronouns" in English Grammar

What Are Indefinite Pronouns?

Indefinite pronouns refer to people or things without saying exactly who or what they are.
These pronouns do not have a specific gender and can be singular, plural, or both.

Not all English pronouns refer to a person or a thing we know; they can also 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 words in English.

Tip!

Indefinite pronouns referring to people end in the suffixes '-body' or '-one,' and indefinite pronouns referring to things end in '-thing.'

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 Type
anybody/anyone A person, no matter who Elective
nobody/no one No person Negative
everybody/everyone All people Universal
somebody/someone A person 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 have similar 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 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' has 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' refers back to 'everybody.'

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

Here in this sentence, 'they,' that is a plural pronoun, refers back to 'somebody.'

Making Possessives

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 possession.

Is this anybody's wallet?

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

Using the Indefinite Pronoun 'Anybody' as the Subject

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 people other than the family members.

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

In this statement, 'somebody' else refers to a person other than 'Manuel.'

I think this is somebody else's wallet.

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

Singular Indefinite Pronouns about Two Things/People

'Neither' and 'either' and 'both' is used when you have two things/people to talk about. After these pronouns, 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 option.

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

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

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

The definition of this sentence 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 a plural verb is more informal.

Singular Indefinite Pronouns for Uncountable Noun

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

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.

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

'Not Much' as a Negative Marker

We can use 'much' as a negative marker 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 Type
Another One more of something/someone, or a different thing/person Alternative
Other A different person/thing from someone/something mentioned before Alternative
Each One person or thing among a group 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 lots of debate about getting married or staying single and I think each has its own 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 the 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 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:

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

In this example, '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 look at some examples:

More was left in the glass. = More were left in the glass.

Most agree on this.

In this example, 'most' refers to a plural noun because it is followed by a plural verb. Now take a look at this example; 'Most is drunk nowadays.' In this case 'most' 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 look at this example, 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:

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.

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.

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 the 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, ell)
  • 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 (either 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 bears 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 Negation

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

I don't want to talk to no one.

'Don't' is used to show the emphasis.

How to Make Sentences Negative with an Indefinite Pronoun?

There are different ways to change a positive sentence to a negative sentence using an 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.

In this example, '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, an affirmative verb is followed by a negative indefinite pronoun which again bears a negative meaning as the previous example.

Review

Indefinite pronouns refer to ambiguous things or people.

  1. Universal
  2. Negative
  3. Elective
  4. Assertive
  5. Alternative
  6. Quantifier

How They Are Divided into Different Groups

  • Based on:
  1. What they refer to
  2. Meaning
  3. Type
  4. Number
  5. Following verb
Singular Indefinite Pronouns another other each enough little less much either neither both anything nothing something everything Anybody/Anyone Nobody/No one Everybody/Everyone Somebody/Someone
Plural Indefinite Pronouns others many fewer several few
Singular or Plural indefinite pronouns all/ none any such some most more

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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 that is.

Possessive Pronouns

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

Dummy Pronouns

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

Reciprocal Pronouns

When two or more people are doing the same thing and receiving the consequences of that action at the same time we use reciprocal pronouns.

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Relative pronouns are matchmakers of English grammar. They come in the beginning of relative clauses and join two clauses together. Ready to learn about them?

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