What Are Indefinite Pronouns?
Indefinite pronouns refer to people or things without specifying exactly who or what they are. These pronouns are gender-neutral and can be singular, plural, or both.
English pronouns are not limited to referring to known people or things; they can also refer to individuals or entities worldwide, make a sentence negative, or represent ambiguous objects. Indefinite pronouns are used for these purposes and are classified into various groups based on their functions.
Types of Indefinite Pronouns
There are different types of indefinite pronouns and each type is used in a slightly different way.
Assertive Indefinite Pronouns
Assertive indefinite pronouns, also known as assertive existential pronouns, refer to a particular item with a unique feature that is not known or mentioned. Here is the list of assertive indefinite pronouns:
Assertive Indefinite Pronouns Referring to People
Assertive indefinite pronouns 'someone' and 'somebody' are used to refer to a person whose identity is either unknown or unidentified.
'Somone' is slightly more formal than 'somebody'. Otherwise, they are used interchangeably.
Assertive Indefinite Pronouns Referring to Things
'Something' is an assertive indefinite pronoun that refers to a thing or an object when its name or identity is unknown or undefined.
Non-assertive Indefinite Pronouns
Non-assertive (also called elective or elective/dubitative existential) indefinite pronouns refer to a particular item, regardless of its features. They refer to any person/thing without specifying exactly who or what. Here is the list of non-assertive indefinite pronouns:
Non-assertive Indefinite Pronouns Referring to People
'Anyone' and 'anybody' refers to a person whose identity is not important.
'Anyone' is slightly more formal than 'anybody'. Otherwise, they are used interchangeably.
She hasn't talked to
Non-assertive Indefinite Pronouns Referring to Things
'Anything' is used to refer to any object, event, situation, etc., when it is not important to specify exactly which.
You can buy
Universal Indefinite Pronouns
Universal Distributive Pronouns
'All' and 'each' are both classified as universal distributive pronouns. 'All' refers to the total number of people or things considered as a group, whereas 'each' implies that all members of a group are considered individually, even if they are thought of collectively.
When the contestants finished the race,
Here, the contestants are considered individually.
When the contestants finished the race,
Here, the contestants are considered as a group.
Universal Indefinite Pronouns Referring to People
'Everyone' and 'everybody' are used to refer to all individuals in a group. 'Everyone' is generally considered more formal than 'everybody,' and is more commonly used in written language.
Universal Indefinite Pronouns Referring to Things
We use 'everything' to refer collectively to all members of a complete group of something, rather than referring to them individually.
You should tell her
Negative Indefinite Pronouns
Negative Indefinite Pronouns Referring to People
'No one' and 'nobody' both refer to the absence of people. 'Nobody' is slightly less formal than 'no one' and is used in writing more than 'nobody'.
Negative Indefinite Pronouns Referring to things
'Nothing' means no + thing. It refers to the absence of objects. Keep in mind not to use 'nothing' with another negative word such as 'not.'
Not 'There is
not nothing in this box'.
Alternative Indefinite Pronouns
Alternative indefinite pronouns refer to an item or items that are different from a previously mentioned one. They typically indicate the second of two people or things, which is not the one that has already been mentioned or selected.
'Others' is a plural alternative indefinite pronoun. It can be used to refer to both people and things.
We all should help
We can use 'the other' as a pronoun, especially to refer back to something which has already been mentioned in the sentence.
He kept shifting awkwardly from one foot to
When the indefinite article 'an' is used before 'other', it is written as one word: 'another'. 'Another' refers to an alternative or different thing or person.
Buy two shirts and get
Some indefinite pronouns are always followed by a singular verb even if they refer to a number of people/things.
You know that 'everybody' means all the people in a group, yet we use a singular verb after it; that is why it is called a singular indefinite pronoun.
'Anybody' refers to more than one person, yet a singular verb is used with it.
Referring Back to an Indefinite Pronoun
To refer back to an indefinite pronoun, we normally use a plural pronoun:
In this example, 'they' refers back to 'everybody.'
Here in this sentence, 'they,' which is a plural pronoun, refers back to 'somebody.'
Normally we cannot add 's' to pronouns to make them possessive. However, we can add 's' to indefinite pronouns to make them possessive:
They were staying in
'S is added to 'somebody' to indicate possession.
'S is added to 'anybody' to show possession.
When using indefinite pronouns in a negative sentence, it is important to consider their grammatical role as either the subject or object of the sentence. For instance, universal indefinite pronouns (such as 'everybody') should not be used in a negative sentence, as either the subject or object. Take a look at this example:
This example is wrong because 'everybody' (a universal indefinite pronoun) cannot be used in a negative sentence.
What Is a Negative Marker?
A negative marker is a word that can be used to make a sentence negative. As shown in the table above, 'negative indefinite pronouns' can serve as negative markers. This means that using these pronouns in a sentence can make the sentence negative without the need to use 'not.' Take a look at this example:
Here, in this example, by using 'nobody' (a negative indefinite pronoun) this sentence bears a negative meaning.
When a negative indefinite pronoun is used in a sentence, using another negative marker in the same sentence is grammatically wrong:
'Nobody' is a negative indefinite pronoun, so 'was' must be used instead of 'was not'.
In colloquial English, sometimes negative indefinite pronouns functioning as objects are used in already negative sentences to show emphasis. This is called a double negation:
'Don't' is used to show the emphasis.
How to Make Sentences Negative with an Indefinite Pronoun?
There are different ways of changing a positive sentence to a negative sentence using an indefinite pronoun:
- When the indefinite pronoun is the subject of the sentence:
In this case, the best way is to use a negative indefinite pronoun that corresponds to what the pronoun is referring to, whether it is a thing or a person. Take a look at these example:
In this example, 'nobody' is the negative indefinite pronoun.
As you know 'Nothing' is the negative alternative for 'something.' Keep in mind that an affirmative verb is used with the negative pronoun 'nothing.'
- When the indefinite pronoun is the object of the sentence:
In this case you can either use a negative indefinite pronoun in a positive sentence or an elective pronoun in a negative sentence. Both of these structures are correct and have the same meaning. Take a look at the examples:
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
Here, a negative verbs is followed by an 'elective indefinite pronoun' which bears a negative meaning.
In this case, an affirmative verb is followed by a negative indefinite pronoun which again bears a negative meaning as the previous example.
Indefinite Pronouns in Negative Sentences
Using indefinite pronouns in negative sentences can be a bit tricky. Not all indefinite pronouns can be used in a negative sentence. The table below can help you understand their usage better:
Indefinite pronouns refer to ambiguous things or people.
How They Are Divided into Different Groups
- Based on:
- What they refer to
- Following verb
- What Are Indefinite Pronouns?
- Types of Indefinite Pronouns
- Alternative Indefinite Pronouns
- Referring Back to an Indefinite Pronoun
- Making Possessives
- What Is a Negative Marker?
- How to Make Sentences Negative with an Indefinite Pronoun?
- Indefinite Pronouns in Negative Sentences
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