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.
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 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:
|Anybody/Anyone||A person, no matter who|
|Nobody/No one||No person|
The different types of indefinite pronouns will be explained later in this article.
Now take a look at the following examples:
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.
'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' 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:
|Anything||A thing, no matter what||Elective|
|Something||A thing no matter what||Assertive|
Let’s see some of these indefinite pronouns in some examples:
Notice that, ''nothing'' bares a negative meaning it means no things.
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:
In this example; 'They' refer back to 'everybody'.
Here, in this statement, 'they', that is a plural pronoun, refer back to 'somebody'.
Normally we cannot add 's' to pronouns to make them possessives. But we can add 's to an indefinite pronoun to make a possessive:
'S is added to 'somebody' to indicate the possession.
'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.
Here, in this example, 'no one else' refers to other people.
In this statement, 'somebody' else refers to another person.
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.
|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:
You can easily define that, 'either' means it does not matter which choice.
In this example 'neither' means not one nor the other of two things.
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.
|Little||A small amount||Quantifier|
|Less||In comparison, a smaller amount||Quantifier|
Now let’s look at some examples:
It is important to know that, 'little' is followed by a singular verb.
n this example the person who speaks waited as much as possible and she cannot bear anymore.
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' 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.
|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|
Now let’s look at some examples:
'Another' refers to ice cream and it means 'one more' of it. Remember a pronoun is not followed by a noun.
Here, in this example, 'each' means 'both'. Remember a pronoun is not followed by a noun.
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:
|Others||Other people except from us||Alternative|
|Few||A small number||Quantifier|
|Fewer||In comparison, a smaller number||Quantifier|
|Several||A number of people/things, not too many||Quantifier|
Now let’s see some examples of these pronouns:
As you might have guessed 'others' is the same as 'other people'. It refers to more than one person.
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.
|All||The entire number/amount||Universal|
|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|
Now let’s see some examples:
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.
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.
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:
In this example all refers to things (like everything) so it is treated as singular.
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|
|Negative||✗||(only double negative)||✓|
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:
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:
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' is a negative indefinite pronoun, so you must use 'was' instead of 'was not'.
In colloquial language sometimes negative indefinite pronouns as object are used in already negative sentences to show emphasis. This is called a double negative:
'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:
Here in this example, a universal indefinite pronoun is used in a sentence with affirmative verb, that bears an affirmative meaning.
Here, a negative verbs is followed by an 'elective indefinite pronoun' which bears a negative meaning.
In this case, am affirmative verb is followed by a negative indefinite pronoun which again bears a negative meaning aa the previous example.
- Referring Back to an Indefinite Pronoun
- Making Possessive
- Plural Indefinite Pronouns
- Singular/Plural Indefinite Pronouns
- Types of Indefinite Pronouns
- Indefinite Pronouns in Negative Sentences
- What Is a Negative Marker?
- How to Make Sentences with Indefinite Pronoun Negative?