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Indefinite Pronouns - Learn English Grammar

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Indefinite Pronouns


A pronoun is a word that replaces a noun in a sentence.  Pronouns can be separated into two main categories: definite pronouns (or personal pronouns) and indefinite pronouns.  A definite pronoun refers to a pronoun that clearly states the noun.  We know exactly who or what we are talking about when we use a definite pronoun.  In contrast, an indefinite pronoun refers to a noun that isn’t clearly stated.  We don’t know exactly who or what we are referring to because an indefinite pronoun is vague. 

 

It’s important to know indefinite pronouns in English and the grammar rules that they follow.    Indefinite pronouns can be separated into three main groups: singular, plural or both - singular and plural.  In this blog, we’ll go through what indefinite pronouns are and separate them into their groups and learn the grammar rules to follow to speak English like a native English speaker.  

 

What is An Indefinite Pronoun

There are times when we’re speaking when we don’t want to or don’t need to mention a specific item or a specific person.  

 

For example:

“Do you need anything from the shop?”

“Can you see anyone in the park?”

“Yes, I can see someone in the park.”

“Can you get me something from the shop?”

 

In these sentences, the ‘anything, anyone, someone and something’ are unknown.  The listener only knows whether we’re talking about a thing or a person - the rest is a complete mystery.  These words refer to any person or any thing instead of a specific person or a specific thing.

An indefinite pronoun is a pronoun that doesn’t refer to anything or anyone specifically.  We usually form singular indefinite pronouns with words like ‘any, every, some, and no.’  In the sentence ‘anyone can drive a car,’ ‘anyone’ refers to any person - not one specific person or group of people in particular.  It isn’t important to know exactly who we are referring to in this sentence.  The pronoun is indefinite because it doesn’t define a person like the definite personal pronouns, for example, ‘I, he, she, it, they, you, and we.’

 

The indefinite pronoun ‘anyone’ doesn’t refer to any specific person.  It is a pronoun that refers to any person.  The pronoun is vague and could refer to absolutely anybody.  In contrast, a definite pronoun like ‘he’ refers to one specific person - the person is clearly mentioned and known before the pronoun ‘he’ is used.

 

What Are Indefinite Pronouns Used For?

We use indefinite pronouns when we want to talk about something or someone without specifically mentioning who or what we’re talking about.  Indefinite pronouns that end in ‘body’ or ‘one’ refer to people and indefinite pronouns that end in ‘thing’ refer to objects.  Indefinite pronouns help us talk about people or things in general instead of specific things or people.

Indefinite pronouns can refer to groups of people or things like ‘everyone’ and ‘everything,’ and they can refer to one person or a thing like ‘someone’ and ‘something.’  It’s important to remember that some indefinite pronouns refer to a group but are still considered singular because the one group is singular.  

 

How to Use Indefinite Pronouns

We can use indefinite pronouns in positive and negative sentences and questions.  We use them when we don’t know exactly who or what we are referring to and we don’t need to be specific.  They are placed in the position of a noun and refer to something or someone we don’t know, all or every person or thing in a group, or any person or thing (it doesn’t matter which one).  We use ‘no one’ ‘nobody’ and ‘nothing’ when the person or thing is not there.

 

For example:

‘I can see someone over there’

‘I don’t see anybody in the pool’

‘No one is at school today’

‘Can you get me something from the shops please?’

 

 

What Type of Pronoun is Indefinite?

Indefinite pronouns are all pronouns that do not identify a single noun or plural noun specifically.  They are vague pronouns that do not refer to an exact person, place or thing.  Indefinite pronouns can refer to any person or thing, every person or thing or no person and no thing.  Pronouns that begin with words like ‘every-,’ ‘some-,’ ‘any-’ and ‘no-’ indicate a non-specific person or thing.  These are words like ‘everyone’ ‘someone’ ‘anyone’ and ‘no one.’  

 

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Indefinite Pronouns List

Everyone

Everybody

Someone

Somebody

Something

No one

Nobody

None

Several

Some

Each

Everything

Nothing

Anything

Anybody

Anyone

All

Another

Any

Each

Either

Both

Many

Few

 

Indefinite Pronouns Examples

The most common examples of indefinite pronouns are words like ‘someone, somebody, something, anyone, anybody, anything, everyone, everything and no one, and nothing.’

 

When learning about indefinite pronouns, we must focus on using the correct grammar form with the indefinite pronoun.  Indefinite pronouns can be separated into singular indefinite pronouns and plural indefinite pronouns.  Some indefinite pronouns can be both singular or plural depending on the context.  

 

For example, ‘none’ can be either singular or plural.  We can say ‘none of them is kind,’ which means ‘not one of them is kind’ and we can say ‘none of them are kind’ which means ‘not any of them are kind.’  However, some other indefinite pronouns are either strictly singular or plural.  ‘Everyone’ is a singular indefinite pronoun because it refers to one group.  “Everyone is excited about the party this weekend.” And ‘both’ is always plural because it refers to two things or people.  “Both are possible answers to this question.”  

 

If you struggle to identify which indefinite pronoun is singular and which indefinite pronoun is plural then don’t panic - it can be tricky to figure it out.  The best thing you can do is familiarize yourself with singular and plural indefinite pronouns and keep practicing on your own or with a native English speaking partner.  A speaking partner will help identify your errors and make corrections that will help improve your spoken English fluency.  

 

Singular Indefinite Pronouns

Singular indefinite pronouns refer to a single group of people or things, a person or a thing.  Remember that a group of something is still singular because the focus is on the group and not the individuals in the group.  ‘Everyone’ is singular in the same ways that ‘family’ is singular.  There may be many people in the family, however, there is only one family group.

 

A singular indefinite pronoun must follow the same rules as third-person singular pronouns (he, she and it).  They have the same subject-verb agreement as third-person singular pronouns.

 

For example:

“He is very kind.”

“Everyone is very kind.”

 

In the above example, ‘everyone’ is a singular indefinite pronoun that must take ‘is.’  The third-person singular pronouns, like ‘he,’ also take ‘is.’  Therefore, a rule to remember when constructing sentences with singular indefinite pronouns is that singular indefinite pronouns take the third-person singular form of the verb.

 

Singular Indefinite Pronouns Examples 

Some indefinite pronouns are only ever singular.  These include:

Everyone

Everybody

Everything

Anyone

Anybody

Anything

Someone

Somebody

Something

Another

Less

Little

Neither

Either

Enough

No one

Nothing

Nobody

One

 

 

Plural Indefinite Pronouns

Some indefinite pronouns are always plural.  These indefinite pronouns refer to more than one thing or person.  We must follow the same grammar rules as third-person plural pronouns.  The third-person plural pronouns are ‘you, we, and they.’  

 

For example:

“Both are correct.”

“They are correct.”

 

In the above example, we can see that ‘they’ and ‘both’ take the same form of the verb.  We CANNOT say ‘both is correct.’  ‘Both’ always refers to more than one thing because it means ‘two.’  We use ‘both’ when we mean two people or two things but we don’t specify which two people or two things.  

 

Plural Indefinite Pronouns Examples 

Both

Many

Others

Few

Fewer

Several

 

Indefinite Pronouns That Can Be Singular or Plural

Some indefinite pronouns can be either singular or plural.  Their singularity or plurality relies on context.  If a speaker says ‘none of them are interesting,’ then they are saying ‘not any of them are interesting.’  If the speaker says ‘none of them is interesting,’ then they are saying ‘not one of them is interesting.’  Both of these sentences structures have the same meaning.  ‘None’ can be used as a singular indefinite pronoun and plural indefinite pronoun without the meaning of the sentences changing.  This is true for all singular/plural indefinite pronouns.  The special thing about them is that they can follow both singular and plural pronoun grammar rules.

 

Examples of Pronouns That Can Be Singular or Plural:

Some

None

Most

Any

All

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