Learning about indefinite pronouns is an important part of mastering the English language and English grammar, but many students become confused about what indefinite pronouns actually are. Many teachers like to explain indefinite pronouns by reminding them of the following phrase: “Is anybody home?” In this example, we aren’t asking about whether Sally, Hank, or Andrew are home – we are not interested in knowing if a definite person is at home – just whether any humans are on the premises. Keep reading to learn about the indefinite pronoun and to understand more about how these pronouns work.
An indefinite pronoun replaces a noun. There are a few different kinds of indefinite pronouns:
Singular indefinite pronouns are:
somebody, someone, something, nobody, no one, nothing, everybody, everyone, everything, another, anybody, anyone, anything, each, either, one, other, neither, and much
These are treated as if they are singular objects, and not plural. Look at the following examples, and see how they are paired with a verb that is third-person singular:
Plural indefinite pronouns are:
several, many, others, few and both
Here are a few examples of these plural indefinite pronouns in action. Notice how they are put together with a verb that is third-person plural:
Make sure that you match an indefinite pronoun with the right pronoun later in the sentence. If an indefinite pronoun is third-person singular, then by all means it belongs with other third-person singular pronouns. Look at the examples below:
Notice that the second one clearly is correct, because “his” is singular, just like “each.” But, what do you do when you are talking about people, and the genders are mixed? You might realize that it is inappropriate to use “it” as a pronoun to talk about a human, and “their” is plural. What do you do? Look at the examples below:
Although it takes a little more effort to say, the second sentence is correct, because each of the pronouns in the latter part of the sentence are singular, and therefore match the indefinite pronoun.
Indefinite pronouns can be used when the meaning is conditional. Look at the following examples and see if this concept makes sense to you. In each example, the first sentence uses an indefinite pronoun in a question format, and the second sentence uses an indefinite pronoun in a conditional clause.
Indefinite pronouns make it easier to talk quickly and efficiently with people. Look at the following two examples: which is easier to understand and quicker to say?
Surely most people would choose to say the second sentence: it covers a lot of information just using one easy indefinite pronoun.
Just make sure to practice using the right verb conjugation with the right indefinite pronoun. Often people forget to make sure the verb matches the pronoun, and therefore many English teachers get upset that their students aren’t grasping the idea of indefinite pronouns.
The reality is, however, that this problem is very minor: many native English speakers still mix up their indefinite pronouns, and if you use an indefinite pronoun with the wrong verb, an English speaker might not even notice.