Indefinite Pronoun

Correct Uses of Indefinite Pronouns

An indefinite pronoun is a pronounOpens in new window that does not refer to any person, place, concept or thing. It specifies something in the text as “indefinite,” that is, not defined or determined.

Indefinite pronouns are therefore used indefinitely in the sense that they generically specify any member of conceptual structure such as person, thing, property, place, time, manner, amount, reason, and event.

Indefinite pronouns encompass men and women, boys and girls, babies and the elderly, as well as things, with no concern for gender, age, or any other qualifier.

Common Indefinite Pronouns include:

Notice the “indefiniteness” of some of the above words in the following construction:

Anyone could become president, and everyone may like the paycheck, but no one would necessarily enjoy the stress of the position. Someone will take on the challenge and everyone hopes that the right one will get elected and do a good job.”

— (James C. Jarrad, The Case of the Missing Pronoun)

The indefinite pronouns mean anyone or anything. That is the nature of their indefiniteness. Sometimes the context an indefinite pronoun is used will indicate that it suggests “a certain person” or “thing that is unspecified.”

Other times it suggests a person “who could be anyone” or something that “could be anything.”

This general-type allusion and sometimes generic inclusiveness of an indefinite pronoun is profitable and useful in some scenarios wherein one or more people may fit into a given action, occasion, or state of being.

Examples Showing the Roles of Indefinite Pronouns in Grammatical Constructions

    • Everyone will attend the trade fair.
    • Everyone → is used as the subject of the verb will attend, and refers to no definite person.
    • Many train for a specific job, but few are chosen for that job.
    • Many → is used as the subject of the verb train and refers to no definite persons.
    • Few → is used as the subject of the verb are chosen and refers to no definite person.
    • They appointed someone with limited working experience.
    • They → refers to no definite person and is used as the subject of the sentence.
    • Someone → is used as the direct object of the verb appointed and refers to no definite person.
  1. Indefinite pronouns are usually used as adjectives when they are followed by a noun, as in the sentences below:

    • Several staffs took CPR training, and all staffs received certificates.
    • Several and all — are indefinite pronouns used as adjectives; they each modifies the noun staffs in respective instances.
    • Each event manager has a social skill.
    • Each — is an indefinite pronoun used as an adjective and modifies the noun event manager.

Singular & Plural Indefinite Pronouns

A number of indefinite pronouns are usually singular, some are always plural, and some may be singular or plural.

Those that are always singular includes: another, either, neither, other, anybody, everybody, no one, somebody, anyone, everyone, nobody, someone, anything, everything, nothing, something, each, much, one.

For Example:
    • Something is not right with the printer.
    • Something → is singular indefinite pronoun and takes a singular verb ‘is’.
  1. The following indefinite pronouns are usually plural: both, few, many, others, several.

    For Example:
    • Both are representing Macafei at the trade union summit.
    • Both → is a plural indefinite pronoun and takes a plural verb ‘are’.
  2. There are some indefinite pronouns that are either singular or plural, depending on the context. These include: all, any, more, most, none, and some.

    You need to be very careful when you come across any of these words.

    For Example:
    • The marketers will speak at the summit. Most have computer presentations.
    • Most → is an indefinite pronoun and refers to marketers.
    • Marketers is plural in context. Hence, Most is plural and takes a plural verb, ‘have’.
    • Most of the ice has melted.
    • Most → is an indefinite pronoun and refers to ice.
    • Ice is singular. Hence, Most is singular and takes a singular verb, ‘has’.

Grammatical Functions of Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite Pronouns like nounsOpens in new window or other pronouns, may take the roles of subjectsOpens in new window, direct objectsOpens in new window, indirect objectsOpens in new window, or objects of prepositionsOpens in new window

  1. Indefinite pronoun example
    • No one was late this morning

    No one is taking the role of subject.

  2. Indefinite pronoun example
    • Andrew will eat anything.

    anything is taking the role of direct object.

  3. Indefinite pronoun example
    • Gretchen brought everybody cookies.

    everybody is taking the role of indirect object.

  4. Indefinite pronoun example
    • The teacher gave a gift to everyone.

    everyone is taking the role of object of the preposition, to.

  5. Indefinite pronoun example
    • The girls are washing dishes for someone.

    someone is taking the role of object of the preposition, for.

Possessive Case of Indefinite Pronouns

The indefinite pronouns that have body or one as the second morpheme are specifically used for people, and may be inflected for the possessive with an –‘s, as is the case with nouns.

For Example:
  • That shirt on the couch must be someone’s
  • Somebody’s dog is missing.
  • To live happily ever after will be anybody’s dream.
  • Retiring young is everyone’sfantasy.

Note that when one is the subject it should always be followed by the possessive one’s and not by his or her.

For Example:
  • One should not forget one’s duty to the public.
  • One should obey one’s parents.

How to Use Indefinite Pronouns in Agreement with Antecedents

Pronouns must agree in numberOpens in new window with their antecedentsOpens in new window.

Antecedent is the word or group of words to which the pronoun refers.

When an indefinite pronoun functions as an antecedent, the personal pronounOpens in new window must agree in number with the indefinite pronoun.

    • Each is in its own package.
    • its → is a singular personal pronoun and refers to the singular antecedent ‘Each’.
    • One of the men has his own engineering company.
    • his → is a singular personal pronoun and refers to the singular antecedent ‘One’.
    • Several bring their laptops to the summit.
    • their → is a plural personal pronoun and refers to the plural antecedent ‘Several’.
    • None of the workers received their rebate checks.
    • their → is a plural personal pronoun and refers to the antecedent ‘None’.
    • Note that None is an indefinite pronoun that may be singular or plural. None refers to workers, which is plural, hence None is plural.

Some Possibilities with Indefinite Pronouns

The indefinite pronouns may be expanded to form a phraseOpens in new window that can be liken to a noun phraseOpens in new window.

Examples include:
  • Jesse met someone that he liked.
  • Gretchen enjoys anything sweet.
  • We are in the kitchen preparing something for dinner.
  • everyone has abandoned the house after it collapsed.
  • The children had nothing to eat.

Using Indefinite Pronouns with “else”

The word else is often used in accompaniment with the indefinite pronouns, to refer to people or things in addition to those mentioned earlier.

However, the distinction in meaning of the pronouns with and without else may be challenging for those experiencing challenges in language acquisition.

Observe these constructions:
  • Gretchen doesn’t want anything.
  • Gretchen doesn’t want anything else.
  • Someone is coming.
  • Someone else is coming.
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