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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

Hello,

I wonder if we can use both he/they in same context. for example in exercise two there is a sentence saying,
If anybody has any questions, ___ very welcome to come and ask me. in this case can we use' he' by referring it to both men and women or 'they' is the only option since the gender is unknown?

Thanks in advance

Hello Maahir,

Nowadays, many people prefer to say 'they' in a situation like this in an effort to include people who are not men. For many years, though, 'he' was used to mean the same thing in this case.

My guess is that more people would prefer to see 'they' here than people who would prefer to see 'he'. The people who prefer 'they' would probably argue that using 'he' is sexist.

But of course, in the end, which pronoun you use is your choice.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

well understood.
Thanks.

Hello team,

I have a question in my mind. We usually use somebody for affirmative sentences. Can we use it as interrogative sentence ?

2. As you mentioned in your article that we cannot use any as subject of the sentence but i usually use one sentence which is " I dont go with anyone"
is it correct ?
Please explain proper use of anybody/one/thing.

thank you!

 

Hello Shoaib50,

It is possible to use somebody (~one/~thing/~where etc) in interrogative sentences. Generally, we do this when we want to imply that the answer is 'yes':

Was anybody there? [a neutral question]

Was somebody there? [I expect you were not alone]

 

In your example 'anyone' is not a subject; it is the object of the preposition 'with'.

 

It is possible to use indefinite pronouns with 'any' as subjects. We use them when we want to emphasise that we are making no selection:

Anywhere is fine. [I don't care where]

Anybody can come. [it doesn't matter who]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,
Anyone can do this if they try or if he tries.....which one is correct. ?
Similarly, none can save even if he tries or they try.....which one should I use?

Hello ivans,

Many people use 'they' to refer to one person whose gender is unknown, so 'Anyone can do it if they try' is fine. Traditionally, 'he' could refer to both men and women, 'he tries' could also be correct, though I'd say more people would say 'they' these days. The same rule applies to the second sentence as well.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

I have a question regarding the indefinite pronoun "all". Can it be used to refer to people? I thought of the Pledge of Allegiance (...with liberty and justice for all.), so it should be possible right? I'm aware that it might seem archaic.

for example: "here's to all I have known". Although it may cause misinterpretation, can it still be used to refer to an indefinite group of people?

Thanks and best regards

Hi MonsieurPirato,

You're right, all can refer to people! Here are some more examples.

  • Dear all (at the start of an email)
  • One for all, all for one.
  • See you all later.

So, it's not just an archaic usage. But, it tends to be used in a context which makes clear that it refers to people and not things. Without that context, it may be misinterpreted, as you said. For example, my first understanding of your example sentence is that all refers to things, not people.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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!

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