What are indefinite pronouns?

What are indefinite pronouns?

by Laura Jones

Updated July 26, 2022

Wondering what an indefinite pronoun is and when you might use one? The good news is that you’re probably already familiar with many indefinite pronouns, though you might not know what they’re called! Lots of English learners get a bit stuck on the grammar of indefinite pronouns and putting them into sentences. So, in this article, you’re going to read a definition of indefinite pronouns and see lots of examples in context so you’ll feel confident using them. Everybody loves English grammar, right?

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What is an indefinite pronoun?

Indefinite pronouns are pronouns that refer to people, things or places without being specific. They are called indefinite pronouns because they are not definite, not specific. For example, ‘something’ is an indefinite pronoun in this sentence: ‘I want something to eat’. We know the person wants a noun, and we assume they want food, but it’s not something specific, like chocolate. 

Here is a list of some indefinite pronouns we use in English. There are many more, but we’ll look at these first. 

Personeverybodyeveryonesomebodysomeoneanybodyanyonenobodyno one
Thingeverythingsomethinganythingnothing
Placeeverywheresomewhereanywherenowhere

Notice that ‘no one’ is two words. It is not spelled ‘noone’.

‘Every’ means all. ‘Some’ means part of and is positive. ‘Any’ also means part of, but it is negative. ‘No’ means none. 

Is there a difference between everybody and everyone?

There is no difference in meaning between indefinite pronouns that use ‘body’ and those that use ‘one’. The only difference is that ‘everybody’ is more common in speech and is thought to be more informal, while ‘everyone’ is more common in writing and is a little more formal. 

How to use indefinite pronouns

Indefinite pronouns can replace nouns. Let’s look at some example sentences. 

All the children can choose their own meal. Everybody can choose their own meal. 

A stranger asked me for directions. Somebody asked me for directions. 

Does Kate have a pen I can borrow? Does anyone have a pen I can borrow?

Yuri doesn’t like olives. No one likes olives. 

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Grammar of indefinite pronouns

The indefinite pronouns that we’ve looked at so far are followed by a verb in the third-person singular. They can be used in any tense. 

Everybody is happy.

Somebody wants to help.

Was anyone here?

Nobody will like it. 

If you refer back to these indefinite pronouns, use a plural subject

Everybody is happy and they are all singing. 

Nobody will like it. In fact, I think they will hate it. 

And remember, if you are using ‘no one’ or ‘nothing’, you cannot use another negative

No one came to the party. No one didn’t come to the party. 

Nothing made me feel better. Nothing didn’t make me feel better.

Here are some more indefinite pronoun examples: 

Why is no one working?

Anyone can learn English if they try hard. 

Somebody didn’t shut the door properly and the dog escaped. 

For me, nowhere is as beautiful as the Yorkshire coast. 

Everything has gone wrong! 

Is there anything I can do to help?

Are you going to use indefinite pronouns?

We use indefinite pronouns in English all the time and hopefully, you’ll feel confident using them now too. Maybe you want to tell people that you’d love to be anywhere but England on a rainy January day. Or accuse your housemates of eating your food: Someone’s finished my baked beans! Now, does anyone have any questions?

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Laura is a freelance writer and was an ESL teacher for eight years. She was born in the UK and has lived in Australia and Poland, where she writes blogs for Lingoda about everything from grammar to dating English speakers. She’s definitely better at the first one. She loves travelling and that’s the other major topic that she writes on. Laura likes pilates and cycling, but when she’s feeling lazy she can be found curled up watching Netflix. She’s currently learning Polish, and her battle with that mystifying language has given her huge empathy for anyone struggling to learn English. Find out more about her work in her portfolio.

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