Indefinite Pronouns | Definition, Examples & List
Indefinite pronouns are pronouns that are used to refer to someone or something in a general way, without being specific about whom or what you’re referring to.
The main group of indefinite pronouns is formed by various combinations of no-, any-, some-, and every- with -thing, -one, and -body (e.g., “anything”). The same prefixes combined with -where form indefinite adverbs (e.g., “somewhere”), which work similarly but are not technically pronouns.
There are also other indefinite pronouns that aren’t formed in this way, such as “many” and “little.”
|-one and -body refer to people.||-thing refers to things.||-where (or occasionally -place) refers to places.|
|every- indicates all of something or some group.||Tell everyone I said hi!
Everybody else is here already.
|Everything looks brighter after a good night’s sleep.||Humans can be found just about everywhere on earth.|
|any- indicates a wide or infinite range of possibilities. It’s also used in negative statements to mean the opposite.||Who’s that knocking at the door? It could be anybody!
I don’t think anyone is interested.
|You can do anything you set your mind to.||I’ve never visited anywhere like that.|
|some- normally indicates one person or thing.||I’m sure somebody will help us out.
Someone told me you like to play chess.
|I get bored if I don’t have something to do.||I want to find somewhere nice to go on holiday this summer.|
|no- indicates absence.||Nobody wants to go to the party anymore.
No one knows what the future may hold.
|There’s nothing better than a good meal.||My keys were nowhere to be found.|
Table of contents
- List of singular and plural indefinite pronouns
- How are indefinite pronouns used in sentences?
- Indefinite pronouns in negative statements
- Indefinite pronouns in questions
- Indefinite pronouns vs. determiners
- Avoiding gender bias with indefinite pronouns
- The impersonal pronoun “one”
- Frequently asked questions
List of singular and plural indefinite pronouns
Many indefinite pronouns (e.g., “everyone”) are singular even though they seem to refer to multiple people or things. For proper subject-verb agreement, it’s important to remember which pronouns are followed by a singular verb form (e.g., “is”) and which by a plural one (e.g., “are”).
The largest group of indefinite pronouns, including all the any-/every-/no-/some- pronouns, is singular in form. Remember that these words are treated as singular even when they seem to refer to multiple people or things.
|There is another on the way.|
|Is anyone still outside?|
|Anything is possible.|
|Each decides their own path.|
|Has either of them arrived?|
|I don’t know if everybody/everyone will be there.|
|Everything is going well here.|
|While there’s always some archeological evidence, less is available for some periods.|
|Little is known about the Minoan civilization of Crete.|
|There is still much to be done.|
|I asked two people, but neither would tell me.|
|Nobody/no one is at their best when they’ve just woken up.|
|There is nothing I’d rather do!|
|Somebody/someone wants to speak to you.|
|There is something happening outside.|
A smaller group of indefinite pronouns is always plural in form. Remember to use plural verb forms with the pronouns listed below.
|Both are available; which one would you like?|
|Few realize the implications of such a perspective, and fewer still are seriously addressing them.|
|There are many to choose from.|
|Others are not ready to accept this idea yet.|
|If you’re interested in psychology books, several are available in the library.|
Some indefinite pronouns are treated as either singular or plural depending on the context. The singular version is generally used when an uncountable quantity (e.g., an amount of water) is referenced, the plural when the quantity is countable (e.g., a number of houses).
|All of this is mine!||There are many different rooms; all are available for your use.|
|Is there any for me?||There aren’t any of those here.|
|Is there enough to go around?||We didn’t have many chairs left. Are there enough for you?|
|If you run out of soap, more is available upon request.||A small group of reinforcements just arrived, and more are on their way.|
|Of the textual evidence that once existed for this period, most is now lost.||Most were finished last week. We’re just working on the last few now.|
|There’s a lot of news, but none of it is good.||I’m sorry, there are none left.|
|I left this cheese in the fridge too long. I think some of it is still good, though.||Look, some of the guests are arriving already!|
|Such is the importance of this topic that it must be given its own chapter.||Such were my ideas at the time.|
How are indefinite pronouns used in sentences?
Indefinite pronouns can be used in the subject or object position in a sentence (e.g., “Someone is calling” vs. “He’s calling someone”). Unlike personal pronouns, indefinite pronouns take the same form regardless of whether they are subjects or objects.
Unlike most other pronouns, indefinite pronouns can be modified by adjectives, which are placed after the pronoun, not before it. Most commonly, this is the adjective else (meaning “other”) which is only used to modify indefinite pronouns and interrogatives.
Indefinite pronouns can also be modified by other adjectives and by prepositional phrases or relative clauses. All these modifiers should come after the pronoun itself, but an adverb sometimes appears before the pronoun.
Indefinite pronouns in negative statements
Be careful how you use indefinite pronouns in negative statements (i.e., sentences using the adverb “not”). Using them incorrectly can create double negatives (which say the opposite of what you mean them to say) or other ambiguities.
Sentences with “not” normally use a pronoun including the prefix any- or every-.
|I can’t do anything for you.||There is nothing I can do.|
|I can’t do everything for you.||I may be able to do some things, but not all things.|
Pronouns with some- or no- should usually be avoided in “not” sentences, as they make your meaning ambiguous. It’s better to rephrase such confusing sentences by removing “not” or using a pronoun with any- or every- instead.
|I can’t do nothing for you.||I can do at least one thing for you, or it’s impossible for me not to do something (unlikely to be the intended meaning).||I can do nothing for you.|
|I can’t do something for you.||I’m not able to do one specific thing for you, but it’s ambiguous whether or not I can do other things.||I can’t do anything for you.|
Indefinite pronouns in questions
Which indefinite pronoun you use to pose a yes-or-no question has a big impact on the meaning of the question.
- Using an any- or every- word suggests you are asking a sincere question you don’t know the answer to.
- Using a some- word makes the question more rhetorical and suggests you already suspect the answer is “yes.”
Indefinite pronouns vs. determiners
Many words that function as indefinite pronouns can also be used as determiners. The difference is that:
- Pronouns are used to replace nouns, meaning that they stand on their own
- Determiners are used to modify nouns, so they appear before a noun
|Few were prepared to accept her ideas.||There are few candles left.|
|Neither of them has asked me about it.||For our purposes, neither definition is adequate.|
|I havea lot of ideas. May I share some?||Some people just can’t help themselves.|
Avoiding gender bias with indefinite pronouns
Indefinite pronouns such as “each” and “everyone” are often used to make general statements that could apply to anyone. When such a statement involves a personal pronoun or possessive determiner, there’s a risk of gender bias.
For example, in the traditional saying “To each his own,” the masculine possessive determiner “his” is used to refer back to the generic person represented by “each.”
This can be seen as sexist language, since there’s no reason to assume the generic person represented is male. A more neutral way of writing this expression is “To each their own,” which uses a form of the singular “they” instead. Further examples are given below.
- Everyone must go his own way in life.
- Everyone must go their own way in life.
- Anyone can achieve his dreams, if he sets his mind to it.
- Anyone can achieve their dreams, if they set their mind to it.
The impersonal pronoun “one”
The impersonal pronoun one can also be regarded as a type of indefinite pronoun. It’s used similarly to the personal pronouns and, like them, has a reflexive pronoun form, oneself.
Impersonal pronouns are used to make generalizations about all people and how they do or should behave (e.g., “One never knows what the future holds”). They are regarded as quite formal and often replaced with “you” in everyday speech (e.g., “You never know …”).
Frequently asked questions
- What is an indefinite pronoun?
Indefinite pronouns are pronouns such as “anything” or “nobody” that refer to people or things in a general way, without specifying exactly whom or what is being referenced.
The main indefinite pronouns are formed by combining any-, every-, no-, or some- with -body, -one, or -thing. Those formed with -where (e.g., “somewhere”) are classed as indefinite adverbs instead.
Other indefinite pronouns are not formed in this way and often also function as determiners. Some examples are “either,” “many,” “both,” and “little.”
- Is “none” singular or plural?
The indefinite pronoun none can be either singular (e.g., “There is none left”) or plural (e.g., “None of the books have been read”).
Some sources argue that none should always be treated as singular, even when it refers to countable quantities (e.g., “None of the books has been read”). This is based on the idea that it is short for “not one” and thus logically must be singular.
But in fact, none can also mean “not any,” and it has been used as both singular and plural for centuries. There’s no good reason to restrict it to the singular form. We recommend using whichever form reads most naturally in the context.
- What are the different types of pronouns?
Pronouns can be categorized into many types, all of which are very commonly used in English:
Sources in this article
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