Indefinite Pronouns

What Are Indefinite Pronouns?

An indefinite pronoun is a pronoun that refers to a person or a thing without being specific. For example:
  • Someone call an ambulance!
  • I need something to hold this window open.
The most common indefinite pronouns are all, any, anyone, anything, each, everybody, everyone, everything, few, many, nobody, none, one, several, some, somebody, and someone.

Table of Contents

  • Examples of Indefinite Pronouns
  • Find the Indefinite Pronoun Test
  • Indefinite Pronouns vs Indefinite Adjectives
  • Are Indefinite Pronouns Singular or Plural?
  • Why Indefinite Pronouns Are Important
  • Test Time!
indefinite pronoun examples
Like all pronouns, an indefinite pronoun is a substitute for a noun or a noun phrase.

Examples of Indefinite Pronouns

Here 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)

Find the Indefinite Pronoun Test

It's your go! Select the indefinite pronoun.

Indefinite Pronouns vs Indefinite Adjectives

When a word like all, any, anyone, etc. is used as an adjective, it is known as an indefinite adjective ("indefinite determiners" in contemporary grammar). 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 singular or plural depending on the surrounding text or context.

Singular Indefinite Pronouns

  • another, anybody, anyone, anything, each, either, enough, everybody, everyone, everything, less, little, much, neither, nobody, no-one, nothing, one, other, somebody, someone, something

Plural Indefinite Pronouns

  • both, few, fewer, many, others, several

Indefinite Pronouns That Can be Singular or Plural

  • all, any, more, most, none, some, such
Read more about treating indefinite pronouns as singular or plural.

Why Indefinite Pronouns Are Important

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. correct tick
  • None of the students are expected to get As or Bs. correct tick
If your "none" best translates as "not one of," go singular. If it best translates "not any of," go plural. That's the usual advice given, but it's not great because "not any of" sounds awkward, which steers writers away from going plural with "none." Here's some more-useful advice. Follow your instincts, but, if you're still unsure, go singular.
  • None of the printers is working.
  • (This isn't wrong, but it sounds awkward.)
  • None of the printers are working. correct tick
  • (This sounds more natural.)
There's another factor. If you find yourself treating "none" as singular with a singular "they" or "their" (see Issue 4), go plural throughout.
  • None of the attendees has done their homework. wrong cross (untidy)
  • ("None" is singular (hence "has"). Using "their" is acceptable, but it's untidy.)
  • None of the attendees have done their homework. correct tick (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. wrong cross
  • ("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. wrong cross (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. correct tick
  • ("Them" is plural, so "are" is correct.)
  • More of it is required. correct tick
  • ("It" is singular, so "is" is correct.)
This point gets more complicated when the indefinite pronoun is used with a collective noun (e.g., "group," "team," "crowd").
  • Most of the group is leaving. correct tick
  • Most of the group are waving their national flags. correct tick
When used with a collective noun, an indefinite pronoun is singular if you envisage it representing a single body but plural if you envisage it representing individuals.

(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"?)
This problem is easy to fix. There are two good options:

(Option 1) Reword and go "all plural."
  • People don't know what they can do till they try. correct tick
(Option 2) Treat "they" and "their" as singular. correct tick
  • From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs. correct tick (acceptable)
Read more about treating "they" and "their" as singular.

Key Points

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.