What Are Indefinite Pronouns? (with Examples)
Indefinite PronounsAn indefinite pronoun is a pronoun that refers to a person or a thing without being specific.
The most common ones are all, any, anyone, anything, each, everybody, everyone, everything, few, many, nobody, none, one, several, some, somebody, and someone.
Examples of Indefinite PronounsHere are some examples of indefinite pronouns (shaded):
- A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read. (Mark Twain, 1835-1910)
- Of those who say nothing, few are silent. (Thomas Neill)
- Everything is funny as long as it is happening to somebody else. (Will Rogers, 1879-1935)
- Everybody likes a kidder, but nobody lends him money. (Arthur Miller, 1915-2005)
- I don't know anything about music. In my line, you don't have to. (Elvis Presley, 1935-1977)
The Difference between Indefinite Pronouns and Indefinite AdjectivesWhen a word like all, any, anyone, etc. is used as an adjective, it is known as an indefinite adjective. (In the examples below, the indefinite pronouns are shaded.)
- All in the lobby must remain seated. (This is an indefinite pronoun.)
- All personnel in the lobby must remain seated. (This is an indefinite adjective. It modifies "personnel.")
- Please take some to Mrs Chandler. (indefinite pronoun)
- Please take some lemons to Mrs Chandler. (This is an indefinite adjective. It modifies "lemons.")
Are Indefinite Pronouns Singular or Plural?Some indefinite pronouns are always singular, some are always plural, and some can be both depending on the surrounding text or context. (This is covered in more detail in the "Why Should I Care" section below. Here is a list:
|Singular Indefinite Pronouns||Plural Indefinite Pronouns||Indefinite Pronouns Which Can be Singular or Plural|
Read more about treating indefinite pronouns as singular or plural.
Why Should I Care about Indefinite Pronouns?There are four common issues related to indefinite pronouns.
(Issue 1) "None" can be singular or plural.The world is full of people who will tell you that "none" is always singular, but that's not accurate. "None" can be singular or plural.
- None of the students is expected to get an A.
- None of the students are expected to get As or Bs.
- None of the printers is working. (This isn't wrong, but it sounds awkward.)
- None of the printers are working. (This sounds more natural.)
- None of the attendees has done their homework. (untidy) ("None" is singular (hence "has"). Using "their" is acceptable, but it's untidy.)
- None of the attendees have done their homework. (tidy) ("None" is plural (hence "have"). Using "their" is natural. This is tidy.)
(Issue 2) "Either" and "neither" are singular."Either" and "neither" naturally refer to two things, but do not be tempted to treat them as plural. They are singular.
- Either of the sisters are welcome to attend. ("Either" is singular. It should be "is welcome to attend.")
- Men's anger about religion is like two men quarrelling over a lady neither of them care for. (1st Earl of Halifax Edward Wood) ("Neither" is singular. It should be "neither of them cares for.")
(Issue 3) Some indefinite pronouns (e.g., "all," "some") can be singular or plural.The indefinite pronouns "all," "any," "more," "most," and "some" are singular when they refer to something singular but plural when they refer to something plural.
- More of them are required. ("Them" is plural, so "are" is correct.)
- More of it is required. ("It" is singular, so "is" is correct.)
- Most of the group is leaving.
- Most of the group are waving their national flags.
(Issue 4) Words like "someone" and "anyone" are gender neutral, but it can be tough to maintain that neutrality.The singular indefinite pronouns that represent people (e.g., "anyone," "each," "everyone," "no one," "nobody," "someone") are gender neutral. However, many other singular pronouns used for people (e.g., "his," "her," "he," "she") aren't gender neutral. We have the gender neutral "it" and "its," but they're not used for people. It's a gap in English grammar, and it can cause problems.
- No one knows what he can do till he tries. (Latin writer Publilius Syrus) (Why "he"? This also applies to women.)
- From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs. (Revolutionary Karl Marx) (Why "his"?)
(Option 1) Reword and go "all plural."
- People don't know what they can do till they try.
- From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs. (acceptable)