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Let’s Get (Non)specific: What Is an Indefinite Pronoun and How to Use It
What is an indefinite pronoun? This particular category is full of words that you use on an everyday basis, but understanding them is often more intuitive and takes some time to break down precisely. That, however, is exactly what this article is going to do, so that you can gain a better understanding of how these common words function. Let’s start with an indefinite pronoun definition.
A Defining Moment (or Not):
An Indefinite Pronoun Definition
What is an indefinite pronoun? Here’s an indefinite pronoun definition: pronouns that are used to identify persons, places, things, or ideas, but without specifying precise examples. Rather than replacing or referring to some previous noun, these particular words generally stand on their own and represent a concept without a direct antecedent. For example, the word everybody does not need an antecedent to make sense, nor does it identify a specific person or “body.” Therefore, it fits the above description of what is an indefinite pronoun.
The indefinite pronoun definition above was helpful, but doesn’t tell you exactly what an indefinite pronoun looks like. The lists below will show you example pronouns and help you understand what these words look like.
But First, the Options
Now you know how to define indefinite pronoun, but could you identify one in a sentence? Next in our quest to know “what is an indefinite pronoun,” let’s review an indefinite pronouns list for examples of this word type.
Before you look at categories of each indefinite pronoun, let’s list many of the possible words that can function in this way, with an indefinite pronouns list. The following are some of the most common:
An indefinite pronoun can be classified as singular, plural, or both. Let’s take our indefinite pronouns list and break it down in singular, plural, and both.
Singular indefinite pronouns list:
Plural indefinite pronouns list:
Both (singular and plural) indefinite pronouns list:
Some of these indefinite pronouns can be tricky for students to identify as singular or plural. For example, a word like no one sounds like it could be neither singular nor plural. In fact, it sounds like it refers to nothing at all! To complicate things even more, some indefinite pronouns can be used in the singular or the plural, depending on context.
There are also some words, called quantifiers, that function in a similar way as indefinite pronouns but involve quantity, either countable or more general. You’ll see this later, but take a look at this short indefinite pronouns list of quantifiers just to familiarize yourself:
Contemplating the Universal
Some indefinite pronouns are considered “universal.” To understand what “universal” means, take a look at this universal indefinite pronouns list: everyone, everybody, everything, both, all.
What do these words have in common? They all indicate that some group is homogenous in some way.That sounds more complicated than it is, so let’s take a look at a couple of examples.
- Everybody needs to relax.
Everybody is the subject of this sentence and does not refer back to any particular preceding noun. Instead, it claims that an entire group needs to relax. It might be directed at a specific group (e.g., that one character in disaster movies who tries to calm everyone down by addressing them like this) or as a general statement on humankind; either way is grammatically correct.
- All is forgiven.
Here, all is the only noun in the sentence and the subject. It’s a catch-all term without parameters, encompassing everything imaginable in its forgiven.
This special category is one of the reasons why it is so hard to define indefinite pronoun. Still, hopefully the examples above have helped you answer the question, “what is an indefinite pronoun that is universal?” Next, let’s examine the universal negative.
The Results Are Negative
In contrast to the above possibilities, there is another group of indefinite pronouns that is used to indicate a universal negative, when a lack of “something” is the subject itself.
- No one agrees with Joe.
In this sentence, no one is the focus, conveying the absence of any being that performs the verb (in this case, the absence of anyone who is in agreement with Joe).
- None of those options is good.
This one is a little more complex, because none is clearly related to options. However, “of those options” is part of a prepositional phrase. None (singular) is the real subject of the sentence—the noun with which the verb must agree. In this case, the verb to be is expressed as is. Subject-verb agreement is crucial in all your writing, whether you’re using MLA format, APA format, or one of the many more styles used in professional and academic writing.
Sometimes, writers use a word that indicates a portion of some unspecified group or indicates a member of that group without specifying which one in particular (or when specification is not possible).
- Somebody must know where the file is.
Somebody denotes the idea that a person must know where the file is, but carries with it the understanding that readers (and the speaker) don’t know which person that might be.
When you use an indefinite pronoun to indicate something that could be quantified, you have the option of uncountable or countable nouns. As their names suggest, countable nouns indicate that, in theory, it would be possible to count the persons or objects encompassed by the word in question.
- Several chose to stay behind.
- Few use VCRs these days.
In the above sentences, it is now understood that these quantifiers could be groups that could be counted. Contrast this with their “uncountable” counterparts:
- Enough has happened already.
- Little has been written about her life.
There’s no counting possible with the concepts of enough or little, but they still function the same way as indefinite identifiers.
Any and All…
Elective existential pronouns have the honor of the most complicated-sounding name, but they’re actually pretty easy to understand. These are used when writers want to identify any member of some group and apply some idea or verb to all of them individually.
Anyone can see that this is a terrible idea.
Either will work just fine.
Writers use these words to indicate that it doesn’t matter which person, thing, etc., is substituted in, the result would still be the same. If you’re unsure if you’re using these grammar concepts correctly, our grammar check can help!
Pronoun or Adjective?
When we define indefinite pronoun, we include several words that can function as multiple parts of speech. Some of them can be either a pronoun or an adjective, depending on the context. Let’s take a look at an example to make it clear.
- Some are happy.
- Some people work very quickly.
In the first sentence, some refers to an indefinite set of beings who are happy not to tell us anything about what kind of beings they are. This is a pronoun usage.
In the second sentence, some is attached to people and modifies it to tell us what group we are referring to some of. Here, the word some functions as an adjective.
Ready to try it yourself? Take a look at the following two sentences. Which of the following sentences contains an indefinite pronoun?
- All was well.
- All children like to play.
Both sentences use the word all, but it is an indefinite pronoun only in the first one; it is an adjective modifying “children” in the second.
And the Rest
When discussing the question “what is an indefinite pronoun?,” you have to consider several words that don’t quite fit into any one category. In this group are words like whichever, this, and other. The key to identifying them is to understand that they do not refer to a clear antecedent. You can find more information on this page.
- We’ll do whatever works best.
Whatever identifies an abstract concept that encompasses all the possible options that might work.
To review the indefinite pronoun definition: an indefinite pronoun refers to a non-specific person, place, or thing. Some indefinite pronouns are singular, some are plural, and some can be both.
- What is an indefinite pronoun?
- a) A word that identifies persons, places, things, or ideas, but without specifying precise examples
- b) A word that identifies specific persons, places, things, or ideas
- Which of the following sentences contains an indefinite pronoun?
- a) I would like to go to the movie theater this weekend.
- b) I would like to go somewhere this weekend.
- Which of the following sentences contains an indefinite pronoun?
- a) Sarah gave me the answers to the test.
- b) Someone gave me the answers to the test.
- In the following indefinite pronouns list, which indefinite pronouns are plural?
- Anybody, everyone, some, somebody, both
- One of these sentences contains an indefinite pronoun. The other contains an adjective. Which of the following sentences contains an indefinite pronoun?
- a) Both girls are named Jennifer.
- b) I think both are good.
1) a 2) b. “somewhere” is an indefinite pronoun. 3) a. “someone” is an indefinite pronoun. 4) Some and both are both plural. 5) b. In sentence a, both is an adjective, since it describes the girls.
Indefinite pronouns are a cornerstone of daily speech, but they can be a little confusing to understand. With the knowledge in this article, you should be able to define indefinite pronoun and use one in a sentence. More importantly, you can feel more confident in your abilities to use these words skillfully!
Published March 6, 2019. Updated June 5, 2020.
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