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What Is An Indefinite Pronoun? Definition And Examples

Nouns are important parts of speech that refer to people, places, things, and ideas. Sometimes, nouns need a break and ask pronouns to fill in for them. Pronouns can do all of the jobs that nouns do, such as acting as subjects or objects in sentences. However, there is a certain type of pronoun that doesn’t seem too motivated to do its job: the indefinite pronoun. Rather than give specifics, indefinite pronouns only vaguely or generally refer to the words they replace. Indefinite pronouns are the guilty party in wishy-washy sentences like Someone was here or I can give you some coins because I have enough. Who is someone? How much is enough? We just don’t know!

While indefinite pronouns may not want to tell us much, there is plenty to say about them.

What is an indefinite pronoun?

An indefinite pronoun is a pronoun that doesn’t specifically identify what it is referring to. For example, the word someone is an indefinite pronoun in the sentence Someone ate the last slice of pizza. We know that the pronoun someone refers to a human being but we don’t know any other information about them. Indefinite pronouns vaguely or generally refer to a person or thing.

Indefinite pronouns have a variety of uses. Some of these include:

 

  • Referring to an unknown person: The witness saw somebody sneaking around.
  • Referring to a general amount: Most of the kids left, but several of them are still here.
  • Referring to a totality or an absence: We tried everything, but nothing worked.

Often, we may want to narrow things down a little bit when we use indefinite pronouns. To do this, we use prepositional phrases or dependent clauses to make it more clear what the indefinite pronoun is referring to:

 

  • Most of the shelves were empty. (Of the shelves is a prepositional phrase.)
  • I am looking for someone who can read Chinese. (Who can read Chinese is a dependent clause.)

In the above sentences, we still don’t know specifics about who or what the indefinite pronoun is referring to. However, the possibilities have been narrowed down a bit by the modifying phrase or clause.

List of indefinite pronouns

Indefinite pronouns can be singular, plural, or either singular or plural.

Singular indefinite pronouns

Listed below are indefinite pronouns that are typically used as singular. When used in a sentence, these words typically take a singular verb:

 

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

Plural indefinite pronouns

Listed below are the indefinite pronouns that are treated as plural. When used in sentences, these words typically use a plural verb:

 

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

Indefinite pronouns that can be singular or plural

Depending on the sentence, the following indefinite pronouns can be either singular or plural. The verb they use will depend on if these words are acting as singular or plural:

 

  • all, any, more, most, none, some, such

Examples of indefinite pronouns

Let’s look at how we use indefinite pronouns in sentences.

Singular indefinite pronouns

 

  • He had barely finished his first soda before he started to drink another.
  • Everyone was shocked by the sudden announcement.
  • Little is known about the ancient civilization.
  • My data shows that nobody thinks a hot dog is a sandwich.
  • Something smells really good in the kitchen.

Plural indefinite pronouns

 

  • Both of my friends are hungry.
  • We invited all of the neighbors to the picnic, but few have come.
  • Many of the cats have striped tails.
  • Several of the boys know how to swim.
  • This particular plane functions underwater, but others do not.

Singular or plural indefinite pronouns

 

  • All of the trash is gone.
  • All of my sisters are blonde.
  • Most of the drinks are already gone.
  • Most of the town is covered in snow.
  • Some of the pie has been eaten, and some of the potatoes are missing.

Get a definitive answer on how many verb tenses there are and how to use them.

How to use indefinite pronouns

Like all other pronouns, indefinite pronouns can only be used the same ways as nouns. This means that indefinite pronouns can function as a subject or an object in a sentence.

 

  • Subject: No one knows what to do.
  • Object: She was talking to someone on the phone. 

However, most words that are used as indefinite pronouns can also be used as another part of speech. If a word is being used as a modifier, for example, it could be classified as an adjective or an adverb rather than an indefinite pronoun:

 

  • Pronoun: Some of us were here last night. (Functioning as a noun.)
  • Adjective: I found some change on the floor. (Modifying a noun.)
  • Adverb: Some 400 people attended the ceremony. (Modifying an adjective.)

Proper usage

The main thing to watch out for when using indefinite pronouns is that they adhere to subject-verb agreement. If an indefinite pronoun is treated as singular, it must use a singular verb. Likewise, if a pronoun is treated as plural, it must use a plural verb.

Correct: One of us was hiding something.
Incorrect: One of us were hiding something.

Correct: Both of the planets have rings.
Incorrect: Both of the planets has rings.

Things get tricky when it comes to the indefinite pronouns that can be either singular or plural depending on context. In order to figure out if the pronoun is singular or plural, try to identify what the pronoun is referring to: if it is referring to a singular noun, use a singular verb. If it is referring to a plural noun, use a plural verb.

 

  • Singular: Most of the test is multiple choice. (Test is a singular noun.)
  • Plural: Most of the leaves are green. (Leaves is a plural noun.)

You need to watch out for collective nouns, which are nouns that collectively refer to multiple people or things as one unit. If a collective noun is being used to refer to an entire group as a cohesive unit, use a singular noun. If the collective noun is being used to refer to the group members individually, use a plural noun.

 

  • Singular: Some of the team is missing. (The members are not all present.)
  • Plural: Some of the team are doing practice drills. (Individual members are performing drills.)

None 

Because the word none usually means “not one” or “not any,” it often uses a singular verb:

 

  • None of us knows the answer. (Not one of us knows the answer.)
  • None of the spaghetti is left. (Not any of the spaghetti is left.)

However, it is perfectly acceptable to use none with a plural verb if it is used to mean “no persons” or “no things.” For example,

 

  • The wicked king made many promises, but none were kept. (No promises were kept.)
  • There were 17 clowns at the circus when I went this morning. None were there when I went in the afternoon. (No clowns were there…)

There’s more to know about using none, and we’ve zeroed in on the information for you.

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Continue your pronoun journey and with this look at reflexive pronouns.

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