Meaning and Use of Indefinite Pronouns

As English speakers, when use indefinite pronouns whenever we are referring to people or objects without specifically stating who or what they are. Pronouns for people often end in body or one. Whereas pronouns for things will typically end in thing.

For example:

Everybody had a great time at the summer picnic.
I knocked on the door, but no one answered.
It was not a very bright day. We could not see anything.

A singular verb should always follow an indefinite pronoun.

For example:

Everyone adores Martha.
Everything was ready for the dinner.

Whenever you refer back to an indefinite pronouns, it is typically necessary to use a plural pronoun.

For example:

Everybody loved the BBQ. They ate all of the hamburgers.
I will tell somebody about the sink. It has been leaking for some time.

You might choose to add ‘s to the end of an indefinite pronoun in order to make it possessive.

For example:

They were driving somebody’s car.
Is this anybody’s hat?

Use indefinite pronouns with no- as the subject in a negative clause.

For example:

You would not say ‘anybody didn’t show up’, instead you would say “nobody showed up.”

Additionally, do not use another negative in a clause with no one, nobody or nothing.

For example:

Nobody came.
Nothing happened.

You may use else after an indefinite pronoun when you are referring to people or things that are in addition to those you’ve already stated.

For example:

All of my friends attended the BBQ, but no one else.
If Martha cannot come, we will ask someone else.
Cheese, eggs, and ham. Would you like anything else?

Usage of Indefinite Pronouns in English

Since the English language is without generic singular pronouns, we must use words like he, his, and him in statements like “the teacher needed his ruler.” Whenever we constantly or consistently personify an individual like a doctor, lawyer, teacher, a judge and so on, as a male by using the pronoun he we are reinforcing the idea that females are not suitable for those roles. There are several other ways that we can approach pronouns so as not to alienate groups of people on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or some other form of social-economic status.

Before doing so, let’s first explore the definition of pronouns.

What is an indefinite pronoun?

Simply put, indefinite pronoun definition tells that pronouns are those that refer to one or more unspecified people or things. They are coined as being indefinite because they do not indicate the person or thing that they are referring to.

Indefinite pronouns consist of partitives like any, anybody, either, neither, nobody, someone, some and no. They also consist of universals like every, all, both, each. Lastly, they also consist of quantifiers like any, some, several, many, enough and much.

Indefinite pronouns are also used in situations where the noun is unknown. More specifically, indefinite pronouns do not follow the same construction as other nouns (the ones that replace antecedents.) Indefinite pronouns will not refer back to a specific person, place or thing and will always be either singular or plural.

Singular:  another, anybody, anyone, anything, each, either, enough, everybody, everyone, everything, little, much, neither, nobody, no one, nothing, one, other, somebody, someone, something.

Plural: both, few, many, others

Both Singular and Plural: all, many, more, most, none, some, such.

Whenever indefinite pronouns are singular, the corresponding verbs and personal pronouns must also be singular – and, they must agree in terms of number and gender.

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For example:

“Anyone can earn a living as a photographer”

In this example, anyone and earn are both singular.

In order for an indefinite pronoun to be plural, the corresponding verb must also be plural, and they must both be equal in terms of number and gender.

For example:

“Many of the students failed the test”

In this example, students is plural and the verb remains in agreement by taking the plural form of fail.

Whenever an indefinite pronoun functions as either plural or singular, it is necessary to make sure that the verb follows suit. These types of pronouns are occasionally modified by a prepositional phrase. In order to determine whether or not to use a singular or plural pronoun, it is necessary to review the context of the sentence to what the indefinite pronoun refers to in the prepositional phrase. The verb has to remain in agreement with the indefinite pronoun and any personal pronoun, including in terms of gender and number.

For example:

“All is forgiven”

In the example above, all is singular, as is the singular verb ‘is’ – meaning that it is the correct form of the verb. When ‘all’ is singular, it is defined as meaning ‘the whole quantity of a particular item or element.” All can also be plural.

For example:

“All of the earnings from my paycheque are used to pay my mortgage.”

In this example, ‘all’ is plural. This can be determined by referring to the prepositional phrase ‘of the earnings’. Since earnings is plural, it requires a plural verb ‘are.’

Rule for Using Indefinite Pronouns  – Examples

As a writer, there are a few very specific rules that you need to follow to ensure that you are using indefinite pronouns in the appropriate manner.

  1. Indefinite pronouns are normally always singular.
  2. Since the indefinite pronoun is singular, they pronoun or verb that follows should also be singular.
  3. If you are using plural indefinite pronouns, the corresponding verbs should also be plural

List of Indefinite Pronouns

  • Anybody
  • Anyone
  • Anything
  • Each
  • Each One
  • Either
  • Neither
  • Everybody
  • Everyone
  • Everything
  • Nobody
  • No one
  • Nothing
  • Somebody
  • Something
  • Something
  • Both
  • Many
  • Few
  • All
  • Most
  • None
  • Some

Indefinite pronouns are not the only type of pronoun that you will come across in your writing.

Other types of pronouns include:

  1. Personal or Subject Pronouns

I, we, you, he, she, it they

  1. Object Pronouns

me, us, you, her, him, it, them

  1. Possessive Pronouns

mine, ours, yours, hers, his, theirs

  1. Reflexive Pronouns

myself, yourself, herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves

  1. Intensive Pronouns

myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves

  1. Demonstrative Pronouns

such, that, these, this, those

  1. Interrogative Pronouns

what, whatever, which, whichever, who, whoever, whom, whomever, whose

  1. Relative Pronouns

as, that, what, whatever, which, whichever, who, whoever, whom, whomever, whose

  1. Archaic Pronouns

thou, thee, thy, thine

List of All Pronouns that Are Appropriate to Use

Here is a complete list of personal and impersonal pronouns for your quick reference.

  • all
  • another
  • any
  • anybody
  • anyone
  • anything
  • as
  • both
  • each
  • either
  • everybody
  • everyone
  • everything
  • few
  • he
  • her
  • hers
  • herself
  • him
  • himself
  • his
  • I
  • it
  • itself
  • many
  • me
  • mine
  • most
  • my
  • myself
  • neither
  • no one
  • nobody
  • nothing
  • one
  • other
  • others
  • our
  • ours
  • ourselves
  • several
  • she
  • some
  • somebody
  • someone
  • something
  • such
  • that
  • thee
  • their
  • theirs
  • them
  • themselves
  • these
  • they
  • thine
  • this
  • those
  • thou
  • thy
  • us
  • we
  • what
  • whatever
  • which
  • whichever
  • who
  • whoever
  • whom
  • whomever
  • whose
  • you
  • yours
  • yourself
  • yourselves