What Is an Indefinite Pronoun?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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An indefinite pronoun is a pronoun that refers to an unspecified or unidentified person or thing. Put another way, an indefinite pronoun doesn't have an antecedent.

Indefinite pronouns include quantifiers (some, any, enough, several, many, much); universals (all, both, every, each); and partitives (any, anyone, anybody, either, neither, no, nobody, some, someone). Many of the indefinite pronouns can function as determiners.

See Examples and Observations below.

Examples and Observations

  • Indefinite Pronouns Ending in -body and -one
    - "The positive indefinite pronouns that end in -body are largely interchangeable with those that end in -one, although corpus research indicates that, at least in American English, the -body pronouns tend to be used more frequently."
  • Singular Indefinite Pronouns
    "The following words are singular indefinite pronouns:
    • anybody, anyone, anything
    • each, each one
    • either, neither
    • everybody, everyone, everything
    • nobody, no one, nothing
    • somebody, someone, something
  • Notice the use of singular pronouns with these words:
    • Everyone did as he pleased.
    • Somebody has forgotten her purse.
    • Either of the choices has its disadvantages.
    • In informal spoken English, plural pronouns are often used with indefinite pronoun antecedents."
  • "Plural indefinite pronouns [both, few, many, several] take plural verbs:
    • Both of us match the donation.

    • Many are wishing they did."

      (Dave Kemper et al., Write 1. Wadsworth, 2012)
  • Variable Indefinite Pronouns
    "The last group of indefinite pronouns is tricky because they are variable.
    • all, most, none, some
  • These pronouns can be singular or plural depending upon the 'real' noun to which they refer.
  • "When the 'real' noun is used, this is clear:
    • Some coffee is left.
    • Some employees are leaving.
  • Because coffee has no -s ending, we know to use is; because employees have an -s ending, we know to use are.
  • "But it is possible to have a sentence in which the 'real' noun is omitted--in response to a question, for example, or in a paragraph when the noun has been mentioned previously:
    • The responsibility is all yours.
    • None is mine.
    • These books belong to you.
    • None are mine.

It is essential, therefore, that when you use a variable indefinite pronoun, you keep in mind the 'real' noun it is referring to."

  • Agreement With Indefinite Pronouns
    "It's clear that one is singular and takes a singular verb. One is, never one are. However, there's a small group of indefinite pronouns that have one in them or imply the word one, that give us all verb trouble.
    • either, either one
    • each, each one
    • any, anyone, anybody
    • everyone, everybody
    • none, no one, nobody
    • neither, neither one
  • Two Categories of Indefinite Pronouns
    "The indefinite pronouns divide into two main categories according to their morphology and their syntactic behavior. The compound pronouns are those which are composed of two morphemes, viz a determiner morpheme every-, some-, any-, or no-, and a nominal morpheme -one, -body, or -thing. The remaining indefinite pronouns belong to a category which we shall call of-pronouns because they can be followed by a partitive of-phrase: many (of), some (of), etc."

    Sources

    Ron Cowan, The Teacher's Grammar of English. Cambridge University Press, 2008

    Penelope Choy and Dorothy Goldbart Clark, Basic Grammar, and Usage, 8th ed. Wadsworth, 2011

    Randolph Quirk et al., A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. Longman, 1985

    Andrea B. Geffner, Business English: The Writing Skills You Need for Today's Workplace, 5th ed. Barron's, 2010

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    Nordquist, Richard. "What Is an Indefinite Pronoun?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 12, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-an-indefinite-pronoun-1690951. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, April 12). What Is an Indefinite Pronoun? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-indefinite-pronoun-1690951 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is an Indefinite Pronoun?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-indefinite-pronoun-1690951 (accessed September 23, 2017).