Indefinite Pronouns

Posted: March 20th, 2014, 4:27 pm   By: brittany.corners

“Man, I love ‘Cops.’ Definitely the best show on Fox. Showing the American justice system at work: beating the crap out of people before judges let ’em go. Almost makes me want to pay taxes.”—Al Bundy, the everyman with few indefinite opinions

 

This week, we continue our look at pronouns by exploring indefinite pronouns.

Indefinite pronouns are the Ace and Gary of grammar: They are the Heroes of Ambiguity. We all know that pronouns stand in for nouns. An indefinite pronoun, however, stands in for a undetermined or unknown noun—a person, place, thing, amount, and so on.

They can cause some writers consternation, because one must carefully ensure that verbs agree with the indefinite pronoun. Furthermore, when present, personal pronouns that refer to the indefinite pronoun must also agree both in number and gender. Don’t fret, because it sounds harder than it actually is. In fact, you do it all the time when you speak. Check it out:

A singular indefinite pronoun comes with a singular verb and personal pronouns:

  • Ex) By greenlighting this odious show, one television programming executive at NBC signalled clearly that he wants to be fired.

Likewise, a plural indefinite pronoun goes with plural verbs and plural personal pronouns:

  • Ex) Many short-sighted parents fail to understand that the children they traumatize now will one day choose a nursing home for them.

Most indefinite pronouns are either singular or plural, but it’s not always easy to keep them all straight. Refer to this handy table for the roster of indefinite pronouns and a guide to whether a pronoun is always singular or always plural—or whether it could be either, depending on the context of the sentence:

Singular

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

Plural

both
few
many
others
several

Either singular or plural

all
any
more
most
none
some
such