What Are Indefinite Adjectives? (with Examples)

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Indefinite Adjectives

An indefinite adjective is an adjective used to describe a noun in a non-specific sense. The most common indefinite adjectives are any, each, few, many, much, most, several, and some.

Note: Indefinite adjective are classified as "quantifiers" (a type of determiner) in contemporary grammar.

indefinite adjective

Indefinite adjectives are often used to describe a noun to show an element of uncertainty.

Easy Examples of Indefinite Adjectives

Here are some easy examples of indefinite adjectives:
  • I liked most people at the party.
  • Some mice have chewed the cables.
  • There are several reasons for my resignation.
  • Each team will receive a 2-minute warning before the start.

Real-Life Examples of Indefinite Adjectives

Here are some indefinite adjectives that feature in witty quotes:
  • Everyone is born with genius, but most people only keep it a few minutes. (Composer Edgard Varese)
  • Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so. (Philosopher Bertrand Russell)
  • I bought some batteries, but they weren't included. (Comedian Steven Wright)

Do Not Confuse Indefinite Adjectives with Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite adjectives should not be confused with indefinite pronouns, which stand alone (i.e., they do not modify nouns or pronouns). In these examples, the indefinite adjectives are shaded but the indefinite pronouns are in bold.
  • There are several people in the safe room.
  • (This is an indefinite adjective. It modifies the noun "people.")
  • There are several in the safe room.
  • (This is an indefinite pronoun. It stands alone. It does not modify a noun.)
Here is another comparison:
  • I have seen some cartridges in the cupboard.
  • (This is an indefinite adjective. It modifies the noun "cartridges.")
  • I have seen some in the cupboard.
  • (This is an indefinite pronoun. It stands alone. It does not modify a noun.)
Here is another comparison:
  • There are only a few deer left
  • (This is an indefinite adjective. It modifies the noun "deer.")
  • There are only a few left.
  • (This is an indefinite pronoun. It stands alone. It does not modify a noun.)
Here is a real-life example featuring an indefinite adjective and an indefinite pronoun:
  • However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them? (Buddha)
  • (In this example, only the first "many" is an indefinite adjective. (It modifies "holy words.") The second "many" is an indefinite pronoun. It stands alone.)

Why Should I Care about Indefinite Adjectives?

Here are three writing issues associated with indefinite adjectives.

(Issue 1) Use "fewer" with plural nouns and "less" with singular nouns.

While there are some quirks with less and fewer, the general ruling is that "fewer" is used with plural nouns while "less" is used with singular nouns.
  • A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls. (Politician Dan Quayle)
  • I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster, and leaves less room for lies. (Swiss architect Le Corbusier)

(Issue 2) Save a word. Write "all the" not "all of the."

If you're unsure whether to use "all the" or "all of the" before a noun, use "all the." It saves a word. Both versions are acceptable though.
  • You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. (US President Abraham Lincoln)
  • (There must have been a strong urge to use "all of the" because it would have aligned nicely with "some of the.")
It is not the same deal with "my" (or any other possessive determiner).
  • All my friends left me when I was 12. (Singer Taylor Swift)
  • All of my songs are autobiographical. (Taylor Swift)
  • (Grammatically, both are sound, but often omitting "of" sounds awkward. You are safe to follow your instincts. Taylor followed her instincts.)

(Issue 3) Use "their" instead of "his/her."

When the indefinite adjective "each" is used with a person (e.g., "each pilot," "each student"), there is often a need to use a possessive determiner later in the sentence. For example:
  • Each student is responsible for his visitors.
But, what if the students aren't all male? "His" would be wrong.

Here's the solution: When your singular person could be male or female, you have two options:

(Option 1) Use "their."
  • Each student is responsible for their visitors.
  • (Using "their" to refer to a singular noun (here, "student") is acceptable. This is the best option.)
(Option 2) Use "his/her."
  • Each student is responsible for his/her visitors.
  • (This is acceptable, but it's clumsy.)
There used to be a third option:

(Option 3 - outdated) Use "his" with a caveat.

"Throughout this document his means his/her."
[This used to be a common caveat at the front of documents.]
  • Each student is responsible for his visitors.
  • (Avoid this option. It's outdated.)
Read more about using "they" and "their" as singular.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

Take a test on indefinite adjectives What are adjectives? What are compound adjectives? Compound adjectives Demonstrative adjectives Interrogative adjectives Predicate adjectives Participles Possessive adjectives