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indefinite pronoun


indefinite pronoun

Indefinite pronouns in English


A pronoun that refers to an unspecified person or thing.

Indefinite pronouns include quantifiers (some, any, enough, several, many, much); universals (all, both, every, each); and partitives (any, anyone, anybody, either, neither, no, nobody, some, someone). Many of the indefinite pronouns can function as determiners.

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "For many are called, but few are chosen."
    (Bible, Matthew 22.14)

  • "You can fool all the people some of the time; you can fool some of the people all the time; but you can't fool all the people all the time."
    (Abraham Lincoln, speech at the Republican state convention in Bloomington, Indiana, on May 29, 1856)

  • "No one wants to hear about my sciatica."
    (Bart Simpson, The Simpsons)

  • "I will not dance on anyone's grave."
    (Bart Simpson, The Simpsons)

  • "A little government and a little luck are necessary in life, but only a fool trusts either of them."
    (P. J. O'Rourke, Parliament of Whores. Grove Press, 1991)

  • "These pronouns are called indefinite because they do not indicate the exact person or thing to which they refer:
    Both are acceptable to me.
    Everything is fine between Sue and Sam.
    Someone has taken my new chemistry book.
    Have you told anyone about the treasure map?
    Somebody ate my sandwich!
    Everybody is busy finishing the quiz.
    We knew that no one had eaten the salami.
    I don't have any, but John has some.
    You may have either.
    Notice that these indefinite pronouns do not introduce clauses, as do the indefinite relative pronouns."
    (Gordon Loberger and Kate Shoup, Webster's New World English Grammar Handbook, 2nd ed. Wiley, 2009)

  • Indefinite Pronouns Ending in -body and -one
    - "The positive indefinite pronouns that end in -body are largely interchangeable with those that end in -one, although corpus research indicates that, at least in American English, the -body pronouns tend to be used more frequently."
    (Ron Cowan, The Teacher's Grammar of English: A Course Book and Reference Guide. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008)

    - "The pairs of pronouns with personal reference (eg: everybody, everyone) are equivalent in function and meaning but the pronouns in -one are regarded as more elegant than those in -body."
    (Randolph Quirk et al., A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. Longman, 1985)

  • Singular Indefinite Pronouns
    "The following words are singular indefinite pronouns:
    anybody, anyone, anything
    each, each one
    either, neither
    everybody, everyone, everything
    nobody, no one, nothing
    somebody, someone, something
    Notice the use of singular pronouns with these words:
    Everyone did as he pleased.
    Somebody has forgotten her purse.
    Either of the choices has its disadvantages.
    In informal spoken English, plural pronouns are often used with indefinite pronoun antecedents."
    (Penelope Choy and Dorothy Goldbart Clark, Basic Grammar and Usage, 8th ed. Wadsworth, 2011)

  • Plural Indefinite Pronouns
    "Plural indefinite pronouns [both, few, many, several] take plural verbs:
    Both of us match the donation.
    Many are wishing they did."
    (Dave Kemper et al., Write 1. Wadsworth, 2012)

  • Variable Indefinite Pronouns
    "The last group of indefinite pronouns is tricky because they are variable.
    all, most, none, some
    These pronouns can be singular or plural depending upon the 'real' noun to which they refer.

    "When the 'real' noun is used, this is clear:
    Some coffee is left.
    Some employees are leaving.
    Because coffee has no -s ending, we know to use is; because employees has an -s ending, we know to use are.

    "But it is possible to have a sentence in which the 'real' noun is omitted--in response to a question, for example, or in a paragraph when the noun has been mentioned previously:
    The responsibility is all yours.
    None is mine.
    These books belong to you.
    None are mine.
    It is essential, therefore, that when you use a variable indefinite pronoun, you keep in mind the 'real' noun it is referring to."
    (Andrea B. Geffner, Business English: The Writing Skills You Need for Today's Workplace, 5th ed. Barron's, 2010)

  • Agreement With Indefinite Pronouns
    "It's clear that one is singular and takes a singular verb. One is, never one are. However, there's a small group of indefinite pronouns that have one in them, or imply the word one, that give us all verb trouble.
    either, either one
    each, each one
    any, anyone, anybody
    everyone, everybody
    none, no one, nobody
    neither, neither one
    In speaking, most of us always correctly use the singular verb with anyone and anybody:
    Anyone around my base is it.
    If anybody wants this, he can have it.
    But with the rest of the list, we often shift to the plural if there's an intervening modifying phrase:
    Everyone is late for breakfast today.
    Everyone of us are late for breakfast today.
    Neither horse has been shod yet.
    Neither of the horses have been shod yet.
    We suggest that you say whatever you like, whatever sounds most comfortable. When it comes to writing, if you think somebody's going to be evaluating your grammar, stick to the singular verb after each of these words."
    (Judi Kesselman-Turkel and Franklynn Peterson, The Grammar Crammer. Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 2003)

  • "Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination."
    (Oscar Wilde)

  • Two Categories of Indefinite Pronouns
    "The indefinite pronouns divide into two main categories according to their morphology and their syntactic behaviour. The compound pronouns are those which are composed of two morphemes, viz a determiner morpheme every-, some-, any-, or no-, and a nominal morpheme -one, -body, or -thing. The remaining indefinite pronouns belong to a category which we shall call of-pronouns, because they can be followed by a partitive of-phrase: many (of), some (of), etc."
    (Randolph Quirk et al., A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. Longman, 1985)
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