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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).
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.
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 |
|Singular||Person||no one (also no-one), nobody – No one/Nobody thinks that you are mean.||everyone, everybody – Everyone/Everybody had a cup of coffee.||someone, somebody – Someone/Somebody should fix that.||anyone, anybody – Anyone/Anybody can see this.|
|Thing||nothing – Nothing is true.
none - Spare change? Sorry, I have none.
|everything – Everything is permitted.
Universal distributive: each – From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
|something – Something makes me want to dance.
this – This is good.
anything – Anything can happen if you just believe.
|Place||nowhere – This student is going nowhere fast.||everywhere – Spiders are found everywhere on Earth.||somewhere – "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"||anywhere – I'm willing to go anywhere.
wherever – Sit wherever you'd like.
|Time||when – When is the best time to come?
|Dual||neither – In the end, neither was selected.||either – Either will do.|
|Plural||others – Others can worry about that.||some/most – Some of the biscuits were eaten but most were still there.|
|Singular or plural||none – None of those people is related to me.[c]||all – All is lost; all are where they're supposed to be.||such – Such is life.||any – Any will do.
whatever – Take whatever you like.
- 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?).
- Archaic forms are whosoever, whomsoever.
- 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)
- enough – Enough is enough.
- little – Little is known about this period of history.
- less – Less is known about this period of history.
- much – Much was discussed at the meeting.
- more (also countable, plural) – More is better.
- most (also countable, plural) – Most was rotten. (Usually specified, such as in most of the food.)
- plenty – Thanks, that's plenty.
- Countable, singular
- one – One has got through. (Often modified or specified, such as in a single one, one of them, etc.)
- Countable, plural
- several – Several were chosen.
- few – Few were chosen.
- fewer – Fewer are going to church these days.
- many – Many were chosen.
- more (also uncountable) – More were ignored. (Often specified, such as in more of us.)
- most (also uncountable) – Most would agree.
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
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.
- One (pronoun) – English language, gender-neutral, indefinite pronoun
- Generic you – Use of the pronoun you to refer to an unspecified person
- English personal pronouns – Closed lexical category of the English language
- English grammar § Pronouns
- Numeral (linguistics) – Word or phrase which describes a numerical quantity
- Quirk, Randolph; Greenbaum, Sidney; Leech, Geoffrey; Svartvik, Jan (1985). A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. Harlow: Longman. pp. 376–392. ISBN 9780582517349.
- Haspelmath, Martin (1997). Indefinite pronouns. Oxford: Clarendon.