Indefinite Pronouns: Definition & Examples (2023)

Although personal pronouns get a lot of love because they’re personal (and we’re people), there are many more indefinite pronouns. These pronouns without a case help English speakers to indicate a wide array of things. Here are some examples of indefinite pronouns, their functions, and their complexities, including their singular, plural, and hybrid uses in sentences.

Definition of Indefinite Pronouns and Examples

The following provides a definition of indefinite pronouns and includes examples.

Indefinite pronouns: nouns that refer to non-specified things.

For example, “everyone” is an indefinite noun. Here are a few more examples:

Each

Another

No one

You may be thinking, aren’t all pronouns indefinite, though? After all, isn’t that what makes “she” different from “Jade,” the fact that “she” is more generic than the noun or proper noun?

In some situations, yes, a pronoun like “she” can be quite vague. For example, “She who studies is she who succeeds” is about as generic as it gets.

“She” is gendered. Even the epicene “they” is distinctly gender-neutral. On the other hand, indefinite pronouns could be truly anything: from “he” to “she” to “they” to the fifth gender of an as-of-yet-unknown alien species.

Here are all the ways that indefinite pronouns stand out from personal pronouns… and then some! Because there’s more to it than the fact indefinite pronouns have no gender, they’re needed situationally.

Indefinite Pronouns Functions

Indefinite pronouns serve a huge number of functions that personal pronouns lack. Consider this indefinite pronoun:

Everyone

Now consider the use of “everyone” in a sentence.

Everyone gets a gift.

How would you communicate this magnanimous idea with personal pronouns only?

Hes, shes, and theys get gifts.

This is a humorous example, of course, because no one would say this. It’s not even proper to pluralize personal pronouns this way, although it’s your best option if your repertoire only consists of personal pronouns. If you wanted to sound even vaguely normal, you’d have to use a determiner:

Every he, she, and they get a gift.

This sounds stilted and grandiose (at best), but at least it’s acceptable. Still, even this example uses the determiner “every.”

Determiner: a word that specifies who or what among the subject.

In this case, “every” specifies all of them among those who qualify as he, she, and they.

Yet there’s obviously an easier way to communicate the idea, one which we’ve already seen. This is to use the indefinite pronoun “everyone,” which combines the determiner “every” with the generic pronoun “one” to create a handy indefinite pronoun that communicates, well, everyone.

As you can already see, indefinite pronouns are necessary to distinguish specific concepts. However, these distinctions get even more subtle as you begin to compare the uses of various indefinite pronouns.

(Video) (ENGLISH) What are Indefinite Pronouns? | #iQuestionPH

Indefinite Pronouns: Definition & Examples (1)Fig. 1 - "Everyone" is an efficient term, like all indefinite pronouns.

Subtle Functions of Indefinite Pronouns

Even indefinite pronouns have their own subtleties that set them apart from one another. Consider these three indefinite pronouns:

All of these indicate kinds of things, but they all indicate different variations of things. To get a better idea, put them into sentences.

Doing something sounds fun.

Doing anything sounds fun.

Doing everything sounds fun.

“Doing something sounds fun” is the most tepid of these sentences. You might say this to a friend as you laze on couches, wondering whether you should go out instead. Much less tepid is “Doing anything sounds fun.” You might say this as you head to the door with your friend, batting about what you might do. Finally, “Doing everything sounds fun” is downright enthusiastic. You just can’t decide!

So, indefinite pronouns are both necessary and potentially subtle. The next step is categorizing the indefinite pronouns in terms of number and verb agreement, which gets trickier than you might imagine.

Singular Indefinite Pronouns

It starts simple enough. Here is a list of some singular indefinite pronouns.

  • Another

  • Anybody

  • Anyone

  • Anything

  • Each

  • Either

  • Everybody

  • Everyone

  • Everything

  • Neither

    (Video) Indefinite Pronouns | The parts of speech | Grammar | Khan Academy

  • Nobody

  • No one

Each of these indefinite pronouns is singular. So, if it’s the subject (in pink), you use the singular verb (in blue).

Another is arriving.

Each serves a purpose.

Either is acceptable.

Nobody talks to them.

This is also true when you combine them into a compound subject using a conjunction (in purple).

No one or everyone wins.

Neither anyone nor anything will stop him.

Finally, singular indefinite pronouns can exist with prepositional phrases (in teal). A prepositional phrase is a group of words tied to a preposition.

Neither of the friends is happy.

If another with heart tremors enters the ward, send them to me.

Indefinite Pronouns vs. Determiners: Be very careful about confusing indefinite pronouns with determiners. Early on, you saw “each” used as a determiner. Later, you saw it used as an indefinite pronoun. Here is each use:

  • Each cake is worth trying. (“each” as a determiner)
  • Each serves a purpose. (“each” as an indefinite pronoun)

In the first usage, notice how “each” is not a noun. The noun is “cake” and “each” describes the cake in some way — similar to how an adjective would. Remember, determiners specify who or what among the subject. Imagine an alternative sentence, “No cake is worth trying.” Here, “no” is also a determiner, and it specifies a very different what among the subject when compared to “each.”

In the second usage of “each,” it’s the noun. It’s the subject. Without “each,” there is no sentence. On the other hand, if you take “each” out of the first sentence, you arrive at the grammatically correct sentence, “Cake is worth trying.”

Finally, as it’s been eluded to, a prepositional phrase does not disqualify an indefinite pronoun.

  • Each of the cakes is delicious.

At the grammatical level, “each” (and “each” alone) is the subject of the sentence. “Each is delicious.”

Plural Indefinite Pronouns

Here is a list of plural indefinite pronouns:

  • Both

  • Few

    (Video) English Pronouns - The Indefinite Pronouns – English grammar

  • Many

  • Others

  • Several

Each of these indefinite pronouns is plural, so when one is the subject, the verb is also plural.

Both are happy.

Few will win.

Many do not.

Several know me.

If you’ve tried to create a list of possible indefinite pronouns, you might have come up with a few that don’t fit this singular/plural dichotomy. For some indefinite pronouns, their number depends on their use in the sentence. This is where things get tricky.

Indefinite Pronouns: Definition & Examples (2)Fig. 2 - Indefinite pronouns aren't magic tricks, but they can feel like it sometimes!

Indefinite Pronouns Sentences

Here is a pair of grammatically correct sentences that use the same indefinite pronoun and the same verb “to be.” However, the plurality of “to be” and the meaning of the sentence change from one to the next.

All are great.

All is great.

If you can’t figure out what each might mean, try fleshing out the context to get an idea.

I’ve been to six malls in the area. All are great!

The trees are growing, the birds are singing, and the flowers are in bloom. All is great.

When you say “all are great,” you’re referring to multiple specific things, all of which are great. On the other hand, when you say “all is great,” you’re saying some universal situation is great. Take this similar use of “all” as a singular indefinite pronoun.

All is well with the world.

This is the most common context where you see “all” as singular. As you can see again, it’s highly inclusive when it takes the singular.

Here is a list of indefinite pronouns that can be singular or plural, depending on the context.

  • All

  • Any

    (Video) Indefinite Pronouns

  • More

  • Most

  • None

  • Some

  • Such

There’s one final trick to master, though. Unlike the other indefinite pronouns, these seven indefinite pronouns change in number if they refer to something else. Here’s what that means.

Indefinite Pronouns That Change in Number When Referring to Something Else

Here’s a sentence for you.

None of the food is good.

Notice that “none” pairs with the singular verb “is.” Notably, it doesn’t do so based on an inherent trait but instead on what it refers to, in this case, “the food.”

Here’s the rule of thumb:

When all, any, more, most, none, some, and such refer to something, they become singular or plural based on that thing or those things.

So, if “none” refers to something plural, it takes a plural verb.

None of the gorillas are friendly.

Here are some more pairs.

All of the food is good.

All of my friends play basketball.

Some of the book is good.

Some of the glasses fit me.

Such a person is prone to stress.

Such people are not trustworthy.

Notice how you can suss out the highlighted text in a vacuum, and it agrees!

Only seven indefinite pronouns change in this fashion, though, so there’s no cause for alarm. Furthermore, these rules and tips should be more than enough to prepare you for most situations!

Indefinite Pronouns - Key Takeaways

  • Indefinite pronouns are nouns that refer to non-specified things, such as the word "everyone."
  • Some examples of singular indefinite pronouns are each, everybody, and no one. They take a singular verb.
  • Some examples of plural indefinite pronouns are both, few, many, and others. They take a plural verb.
  • Some indefinite pronouns can be plural or singular, depending on context. These are all, any, more, most, none, some, and such.
  • If a pronoun such as "any" refers to something, the verb should agree with what "any" refers to. For example, "Any of the people" would take a plural verb to agree with "people."

Videos

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