Indefinite pronoun

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An indefinite pronoun is a pronoun that refers to one or more unspecified beings, objects, or places.

List of English indefinite pronouns[edit]

Note that many of these words can function as other parts of speech too, depending on context. For example, in many disagree with his views the word "many" functions as an indefinite pronoun, while in many people disagree with his views it functions as a quantifier (a type of determiner) that qualifies the noun "people". Example sentences in which the word functions as an indefinite pronoun are given.

Most indefinite pronouns are either singular or plural. However, some of them can be singular in one context and plural in another. The most common indefinite pronouns are listed below, with examples, as singular, plural or singular/plural.

Notice that a singular pronoun takes a singular verb AND that any personal pronoun should also agree (in number and gender). Look at these examples:

Each of the players has a doctor. I met two girls. One has given me her phone number.

Similarly, plural pronouns need plural agreement: Many have expressed their views.

Table of indefinite pronouns[edit]

Number Type Negative Universal Assertive existential Elective existential* Other
Singular Person no one (also no-one), nobodyNo one/Nobody thinks that you are mean everyone, everybodyEveryone/Everybody had a cup of coffee. someone, somebodySomeone/Somebody should fix that. anyone, anybodyAnyone/Anybody can see this. oneOne might see it that way. See also generic you.
Thing nothingNothing is true. everythingEverything is permitted somethingSomething makes me want to dance. anythingAnything can happen if you just believe.

[Universal distributive:]

See also -ever and who-.

Dual neitherIn the end, neither was selected. bothBoth are guilty. eitherEither will do.
Plural
  • othersOthers can worry about that.
Singular or plural noneNone of those people is related to me.[1] allAll is lost. someSome of the biscuits have been eaten. anyAny will do.
  • suchSuch is life.

 *The elective existential pronouns are often used with negatives (I can't see anyone), and in questions (Is anyone coming?).

List of quantifier pronouns[edit]

English has the following quantifier pronouns:

Uncountable (thus, with a singular verb form)
  • enoughEnough is enough.
  • littleLittle is known about this period of history.
  • lessLess is known about this period of history.
  • muchMuch was discussed at the meeting.
  • moreMore is better. (Also countable plural; see there.)
  • mostMost was rotten. (Usually specified, such as in most of the food.) (Also countable plural; see there.)
  • plentyThanks, that's plenty.
Countable, singular
  • oneOne has got through. (Often modified or specified, such as in a single one, one of them etc.)
Countable, plural
  • severalSeveral were chosen.
  • fewFew were chosen.
  • fewerFewer are going to church these days.
  • manyMany were chosen.
  • moreMore were ignored. (Often specified, such as in more of us.) (Also uncountable, see there.)
  • mostMost would agree. (Also uncountable, see there.)

Some people say that "none" should always take a singular verb, even when talking about countable nouns (e.g. five friends). They argue that "none" means "no one", and "one" is obviously singular. They say that "I invited five friends but none has come" is correct and "I invited five friends but none have come" is incorrect. Historically and grammatically there is little to support this view. "None" has been used for hundreds of years with both a singular and a plural verb, according to the context and the emphasis required.

Possessive forms[edit]

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:

  • one's, as in "One should mind one's own business".
  • those derived from the singular indefinite pronouns ending in -one or -body: nobody's, someone's, etc. (Those ending -thing can also form possessives, such as nothing's, but these are less common.)
  • whoever's, as in "We used whoever's phone that is."
  • those derived from other and its variants: the other's, another's, and the plural others': "We should not take others' possessions."
  • either's, neither's

Note that 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[edit]

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[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Some traditional grammars insist that "none" is always singular, but the plural sense is well established and widely accepted. See, for example, a blog entry by Michael Quinion or none in the Compact Oxford English Dictionary.

External links[edit]