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An indefinite pronoun is a pronoun which does not have a specific, familiar referent. Indefinite pronouns are in contrast to definite pronouns.

Indefinite pronouns can represent either count nouns or noncount nouns. They often have related forms across these categories: universal (such as everyone, everything), assertive existential (such as somebody, something), elective existential (such as anyone, anything), and negative (such as nobody, nothing).[1]

Many languages distinguish forms of indefinites used in affirmative contexts from those used in non-affirmative contexts. For instance, English "something" can be used only in affirmative contexts while "anything" is used otherwise.[2]

Indefinite pronouns are associated with indefinite determiners of a similar or identical form (such as every, any, all, some). A pronoun can be thought of as replacing a noun phrase, while a determiner introduces a noun phrase and precedes any adjectives that modify the noun. Thus, all is an indefinite determiner in "all good boys deserve favour" but a pronoun in "all are happy".

Table of English indefinite pronoun usage

Most indefinite pronouns correspond to discretely singular or plural usage. However, some of them can entail singularity in one context and plurality in another. Pronouns that commonly connote indefiniteness are indicated below, with examples as singular, plural, or singular/plural usage.

Table of indefinite pronouns

Number Type Negative Universal Assertive existential Elective/dubitative existential[a]
Singular Person no one (also no-one), nobody – No one/Nobody thinks that you are mean. everyone, everybody – Everyone/Everybody has a cup of coffee.

Universal distributive: each – "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs".

someone, somebody – Someone/Somebody usually fixes that.

one - One gets lost without a map. See also generic you.

anyone, anybody – Anyone/Anybody is welcome to submit an entry.

whoever[b] (nominative case), whomever[b] (oblique case) – Whoever does this? Give this to whomever needs it most. See also who-.

Thing nothing – Nothing is true. everything – Everything is permitted. something – Something makes me want to dance.

anything – Anything is better than nothing.

whichever – Choose whichever is better. See also -ever.

Place nowhereNowhere appeals to me; let's not eat out. everywhereEverywhere feels different when traveling. somewhereSomewhere is on fire in a Canadian forest right now. anywhereAnywhere is better than my place.

whereverSit wherever you'd like.

Time neverNever happens twice in life. foreverForever makes me crazy. sometimeSometime in the past was better than today. anytimeAnytime is better than never to do it.
Dual neither (singular) – In the end, neither was selected. both (plural) – Both were surprised at the other's answer. Both the answers are correct. either (singular) – Either is sufficient.
Plural others – Others worry about that. some/most – Some of the biscuits were eaten but most were still there. Are some of you still hungry? Aren't most of you wanting more biscuits?
Singular or Plural none – None of those people is related to me.

None were deemed suitable in the end.[c]

all – All is lost. All are where they're supposed to be. such – Such is life. Such are the foibles of humans.

who – Who is that? Who are they?
what – What is that? What are they?

any – Any is too much. If any taste(s) too salty, I apologize.

whatever – Play whatever strike(s) your fancy. Whatever is required will be done.

where – Where will I go after death? Where should the good people go?

when – When am I gonna die? When were my troubles forgotten?

  1. ^ Elective existential pronouns are often used with negatives (I can't see anyone), while dubitative existential pronouns are used in questions when there is doubt as to the existence of the pronoun's assumed referent (Is anybody here a doctor?).
  2. ^ a b Archaic forms are whosoever, whomsoever.
  3. ^ Some traditional style guides[who?] state that "none" should always be treated as singular, but the plural sense is well established and widely accepted.

List of quantifier pronouns

English has the following quantifier pronouns:

Uncountable (thus, with a singular verb form)
Countable, singular
Countable, plural

Possessive forms

Some of the English indefinite pronouns above have possessive forms. These are made as for nouns, by adding 's or just an apostrophe following a plural -s (see English possessive).

The most commonly encountered possessive forms of the above pronouns are:

Most of these forms are identical to a form representing the pronoun plus -'s as a contraction of is or has. Hence, someone's may also mean someone is or someone has, as well as serving as a possessive.

Compound indefinite pronouns

Two indefinite pronouns can sometimes be used in combination together.

Examples: We should respect each other. People should love one another.

And they can also be made possessive by adding an apostrophe and s.

Examples: We should respect each other's beliefs. We were checking each other's work.

See also

References

  1. ^ Quirk et al. 1985, pp. 376–377.
  2. ^ Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge University Press. pp. 822–824. ISBN 9780521431460.

Bibliography