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Indefinite Pronouns in English Grammar

Some Like It Hot

Indefinite Usage

Indefinite Pronouns replace nouns or people or things that are not clearly specified.

Some like it hot.

Some who? Some what? Some people? Some animals? Some planets?

Someone knocked at the door.

We don’t know who it is. We just heard a knock and assume it is a person.

Something must have happened.

We know there is a problem but we haven’t found out yet what it is exactly.

Come round anytime. You are always welcome here!

I’m not going to specify when you can come but my door is always open for you.

Common Indefinite Pronouns

Here is list of the most common indefinite pronouns:

  • any
  • anybody
  • anyone
  • anything
  • each
  • either
  • every
  • everybody
  • everyone
  • everything
  • neither
  • none
  • no one
  • some
  • somebody
  • someone
  • something

Singular or Plural After an Indefinite Pronoun?

Most indefinite pronouns refer to a single person or thing. Therefore any personal pronoun or verb related to that indefinite pronoun should go in the singular person.

She hates anybody who wears flip flops at formal occasions.

Someone rings my doorbell at five in the morning, every morning, damn them!

Clue: if the indefinite pronoun ends in -thing, -body, -one then you can safely assume it refers to one person or thing and any verb or pronoun that follows it should go in the singular person.

All, any, more, most, neither, and some can refer sometimes to one, sometimes to more than one person or thing. For that reason, each can take either the singular or plural person, depending on the context. If you’re referring to several people or things within a unit, you can use the plural.

Neither knew the answer but they gave it a try and guessed it right!

The police are asking any of the passers-by to come forward if they saw something.

When talking about a group of people or things, and animals and you look at them as a group rather than as several individuals then you should use the singular person.

All is well!

The title of the famous 1959 Billy Wilder film Some Like it Hot starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon is a typical example of how an indefinite pronoun can refer to a plural entity.

New Trend

The tendency nowadays – particularly in written English – is to use indefinite pronouns, traditionally related to the singular person, in the plural.

Everyone should be familiar with grammar if they want to become language teachers.

This also helps avoiding the gender issue that arises with possessive adjectives and pronouns.

Useful Links

Pronouns‏‎ in English Grammar – a general look at pronouns in English

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