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.

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Submitted by Maahir on Tue, 27/07/2021 - 11:35

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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

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 27/07/2021 - 16:35

In reply to by Maahir

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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

Submitted by Shoaib50 on Sat, 26/12/2020 - 08:19

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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

Submitted by ivans on Fri, 20/11/2020 - 18:44

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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?

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 23/11/2020 - 07:50

In reply to by ivans

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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

Submitted by MonsieurPirato on Wed, 18/11/2020 - 22:04

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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

Submitted by Maggie on Sun, 25/10/2020 - 13:25

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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

Submitted by Jualvess on Fri, 23/10/2020 - 20:28

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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

Submitted by Fidan_Gassim on Sat, 29/08/2020 - 09:47

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

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 30/08/2020 - 08:00

In reply to by Fidan_Gassim

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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

Submitted by bienne on Sat, 22/08/2020 - 11:26

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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

Submitted by xeesid on Fri, 07/08/2020 - 08:40

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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

Submitted by knownman on Thu, 30/07/2020 - 17:57

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Hello, Could you please shed light on these sentences. Which auxiliary verb 'is or are' do I have to use after everybody and everything the following sentences? In the end, everything and everybody [is or are] for sale. Everybody and everything [is or are] mortal. As pronouns the difference between everything and everyone [is or are] that everything is (literally) all the things under discussion while everyone is every person. Best regards.

Hello knownman,

I would say 'is' in both cases, but there are probably others who would argue that 'are' is correct.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Im unkown on Mon, 18/05/2020 - 10:32

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thank you this helped me understand them

Submitted by Almudena2009 on Sat, 16/05/2020 - 12:41

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An indefinite pronoun does not refer to any specific person, thing or amount. It is vague and "not definite". Some typical indefinite pronouns are: all, another, any, anybody/anyone, anything, each, everybody/everyone, everything, few, many, nobody, none, one, several, some, somebody/someone.

Submitted by H_L on Sat, 02/05/2020 - 04:09

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Hello, Let me see if I got this correctly, indefinite pronouns can be singular and plural. We treat them as singular when we think of the verb after them, but we treat them as plural when we refer back to them? Thank you.

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 02/05/2020 - 08:14

In reply to by H_L

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Hello H_L,

That's quite right. Well done!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

This is the first time I study grammar from here; I find it very clear and straightforward. Also, whenever I don't understand something, you help me clear things up. Thank you, I appreciate your help greatly.

Submitted by Natavan Gojayeva on Sat, 14/12/2019 - 14:55

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What is the question form of this sentence. Nobody wants to go with him. Who wants to go with him? Or Who doesn't want to go with him? Thank you

Hello Natavan Gojayeva,

There are several possible questions. The most likely are questions about 'nobody':

Does anybody want to go with him?

Does nobody want to go with him?

Who wants to go with him?

 

You could also ask about other elements in the sentence:

What does nobody want?

Who does nobody want to go with?

What does nobody want to do with him?

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by redream on Wed, 24/07/2019 - 13:49

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Hello, "If Michael can't come, we'll ask somebody else." in this sentence, can we use "someone" instead of "somebody"? Thanks.

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 26/07/2019 - 00:27

In reply to by redream

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Hello redream

Yes, that is correct. They both mean exactly the same thing.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Tope on Wed, 24/04/2019 - 11:34

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Hello, Please is there a rule for using the indefinite pronouns relating to people, i.e. somebody/someone, anybody/anyone, nobody/no one, everybody/everyone...? Or, are they interchangeable? Regards, Tope

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 25/04/2019 - 06:51

In reply to by Tope

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Hello Tope The pronouns ending with 'body' and a little more informal (and thus used slightly more often in speaking) than the ones ending with 'one', but otherwise there is no difference in meaning or how they are used. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by will-ea on Thu, 31/01/2019 - 06:51

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What's the best way to explain the use of indefinite pronouns with both singular and plural verbs? For example: "I heard somebody come into the room." as opposed to: "Tell me if somebody comes into the room." Is it just a difference in usage between subject and object pronouns? Thanks.

Helo will-ea,

 

Indefinite pronouns always have singular verbs.

 

Your first example does not have a plural verb, but rather a verb in the subjunctive mood. This is a form which is used in certain constructions, including following sense verbs such as 'hear'. The present subjunctive form is the same as the base form and does not change for the third person. You can see this if you change 'somebody' to 'him':

I heard him come into the room.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Santiago Perez on Tue, 11/12/2018 - 17:41

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Thanks, the application of indefinite pronouns stays very clear for me.

Submitted by TimW on Tue, 24/04/2018 - 07:28

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Greetings, I'm not sure if it has been mentioned before but there seems to be a slight error on the last question of the first indefinite pronoun question. It reads: "I've had flu for the past...." It should read "I've had *the* flu for the past.." Cheers.

Hi TimW,

In American English, 'the' is used before 'flu' in the way you suggest, but most often it is not in British English. You can see a couple examples of this in the example sentences for the word 'flu' in the Cambridge Dictionary.

Thanks very much, though, for taking the time to tell us about this.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Andrew international on Thu, 12/04/2018 - 07:40

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Dear Sir This is from your website. I know it is correct but I would like to know the reason. My question is; So, that's eggs, peas , and chips. All are plural verbs but why singular subject(that is) Sometimes we say that is all in spoken and in writing. Please let me know the reason. Regardss Andrew int .

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 13/04/2018 - 06:21

In reply to by Andrew international

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Hello Andrew international,

The context is always important. This sentence sounds like an order in a restaurant and the 'that is' refers to the person's order. You could rephrase it as 'So your order is eggs, peas and chips'.

This is a common way of summarising orders and requests in shops, restaurants and so on.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sajjakarthik on Fri, 28/12/2018 - 07:58

In reply to by Andrew international

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can we say like this i.e.; these are eggs,peas,chips thanks for the reply in advance

Hi sajjakarthik,

As Peter remarks, whether this is correct or not depends on the context. If you are pointing at some eggs, peas and chips and telling someone what they are called in English, or if you were pointing at a piece of abstract art and telling someone what you see in it, this would be correct. But if you're in a restaurant, summarising and order, it would not be correct.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by hawa100 on Tue, 27/03/2018 - 23:55

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Hello! Kindly explain to me the difference between these two sentences: I will like to go. I would like to go. Can they be interchanged ?

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 29/03/2018 - 06:24

In reply to by hawa100

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Hi again hawa100,

'will' and 'would are used differently, so in most cases you cannot exchange them without changing the meaning. Please see our will or would page for an explanation.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by hawa100 on Sat, 24/03/2018 - 21:56

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Hello! I would like to know the difference between indefinite pronoun and distributive pronoun. Thank you in advance for the help.

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 25/03/2018 - 08:29

In reply to by hawa100

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Hello hawa100,

Indefinite pronouns do not identify people or things specifically but in general and non-specific terms. They include words like everyone, everybody, everything, no-one, nobody, nothing, anyone, anybody, anything, someone and so on.

Distributive pronouns refer to members of a group separately and not collectively. They include each, any, either, neither and others.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Sir for the answer. I have seen the difference now.

Submitted by foofighters12 on Mon, 22/01/2018 - 19:50

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I got 8 out 8 for that one.