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Indefinite pronouns

Level: beginner

Some of the indefinite pronouns in English are:

anybody everybody nobody somebody
anyone everyone no one someone
anything everything nothing something

We use indefinite pronouns to refer to people or things without saying exactly who or what they are. We use pronouns ending in -body or -one for people, and pronouns ending in -thing for things:

Everybody enjoyed the concert.
I opened the door but there was no one at home.
It was a very clear day. We could see everything.

Indefinite pronouns 1

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We use a singular verb after an indefinite pronoun:

Everybody loves Sally.
Everything was ready for the party.

When we refer back to an indefinite pronoun, we normally use a plural pronoun:

Everybody enjoyed the concert. They stood up and clapped.
I will tell somebody that dinner is ready. They have been waiting a long time.

Be careful!

In negative clauses, we use pronouns with no-, not pronouns with any-:

Nobody came. (NOT Anybody didn't come.)

We do not use another negative in a clause with nobody, no one or nothing:

Nobody came. (NOT Nobody didn't come.)
Nothing happened. (NOT Nothing didn't happen.)

Indefinite pronouns 2

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We can add 's to an indefinite pronoun to make a possessive:

They were staying in somebody's house.
Is this anybody's coat?

We use else after indefinite pronouns to refer to other people or things:

All the family came, but no one else.
If Michael can't come, we'll ask somebody else.
I think this is somebody else's coat.

Comments

Dear Sir,
This past week we learned about indefinite pronouns. But I was very confused when my teacher told me that the sentence, "Someone has removed the grammar book, and I want him to return it." ,is correct instead of "them" being used in place of "him". Do you think she is right? Please do reply ASAP!

Hello Maggie,

In some grammars, especially more traditional ones, 'him' is indeed the correct answer here. This is because the pronoun 'he' (in all its forms, including 'him') can be used to refer to people whose gender we don't know.

More and more people don't like using 'he' in this way since it seems to exclude women and so many people now use 'they' (see the 'he', 'she' and 'they' section) in its place, i.e. when they are referring to a person whose gender is unknown.

For the purposes of your class, I'd recommend you follow what your teacher says.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

I know this sentence is wrong but i cannot explain why, can help me?
"Anyone in my family isn't innocent"
I feel like "anyone" doesn't belong here. Am I crazy?

Hello Jualvess,

The sentence should be 'Nobody in my family is innocent'.

'Anyone' is generally used in questions and negatives, but not as the subject. In certain contexts it can be used as the subject with the meaning 'there are no restrictions on who is included'. For example:

Anyone can come. [there are no restrictions on who can come]

However, we do not use as the subject of negative verbs.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello
I drink anything. Is that true? In the tests as a correct variant. I mean not in the situation or dialogue.

Thanks beforehand.

Hello Fidan_Gassim,

Anything is usually found in questions and negatives, but it is possible to use it in an affirmative sentence when you want to say that you can accept whatever there is. For example:

I'm so hungry I'll eat anything. [whatever you have, I'll eat it; it doesn't matter what it is]

In your example, it is possible to use anything with this meaning.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

but IT, ONE, YOU can also be 'indefinite'.

Hello bienne,

Yes, that is correct. The list is not comprehensive. You could also add either, neither, both, all, any and various other pronouns to the list.

I've updated the page to make it clear that the list is not comprehensive.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear sir,
I wish to know the difference between the use of "all are not" and 'not all are'. For example, here is a situation:
Some people believe about the members of a tribe named V that they are cheaters. The speaker says this to mention those people's opinion:
They think that they are better than V tribe and that the members of V tribe swindle each other out of money.
Now the speaker disagrees that everyone in that tribe does so, because many of the members of the tribe are honest, they don't swindle, and he wants to say that, 'Some of the members swindle, not all.' What should he say?
1. But all V tribe members are not like that.
OR
2. But not all V tribe members are like that.

Hi xeesid,

Both sentences are grammatically possible, but the second one is better. The speaker wants to emphasise 'not all', and this appears at the start of sentence 2 so it will communicate this meaning more effectively. Sentence 1 has 'not' near the end of the sentence and separated from 'all', so the meaning is less clear.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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