Indefinite Pronouns in English Grammar

Introduction

Indefinite pronouns in English grammar include something/somebody, anything/anybody, everything/everybody and nothing/nobody. We use indefinite pronouns to speak generally about something rather than mentioning a specific person, place or thing.

Learn the rules for using indefinite pronouns in English grammar online with Lingolia then test yourself in the interactive exercises.

Example

I am lost. Nothing looks familiar. Everything looks different.

There’s nobody in the street. I’d really like to ask someone. I’m sure anyone could help me to get back to the city centre. But there isn’t anyone here I could ask. It seems that everyone’s disappeared.

I think I heard something. Is there anyone there? I would do anything to get back to the city centre.

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Usage

Things or People

To refer to things, we use the indefinite pronouns that end in -thing.

Example:
everything, something, anything, nothing

For people, we use the indefinite pronouns that end in -body or -one.

Example:
everybody/everyone, somebody/someone, anybody/anyone, nobody/no one

Difference between every-, some-, any-, no-

indefinite pronounusageexample
everything
everybody/everyone
every individual in a group,
all together
Everything looks different.every individual detail
It seems that everyone has disappeared.every individual person
something
somebody/someone
an unspecified person or thing I would really like to ask someone.
I think I heard something.
anythingin negative sentences: nothing
anybody/anyonein negative sentences: nobody

one random person of a group,
one random thing

I am sure anyone could help me to get back to the city centre.any random person
I would do anything to get back to the city centre.any unspecified thing
in negative sentences,
in the sense of nothing/nobody
But there isn’t anyone here I could ask.
in questions whether there is something/something Is there anyone there?
nothing
nobody/no one
not one single thing or person Nothing looks familiar.There is nobody in the street.

Nothing/nobody or anything/anybody

Instead of nothing/nobody/no one we can also use not anything/anybody/anyone.

Example:
Nothing looks familiar.
I don’t see anything that looks familiar.
There is nobody here I could ask.
There isn’t anyone here I could ask.

Everything/everybody or anything/anybody

For foreign learners of English it is sometimes difficult to know whether to use any- or every-.

If we are referring to any person or thing from a group, we need to use any-. To help us remember this rule, we can imagine various people or things and put an or in between them.

Example:
Anyone could help me: the man or the woman or the child or the old lady.
I will do anything if you help me: I will give you money or I will help you do the washing up or I will go to the cinema with you.

However, if we truly mean every single individual or the entire group together, we have to use every-. To help us remember this rule, we can imagine various people or things and put an and in between them.

Example:
Everyone has disappeared: the man and the woman and the child and the old lady.
I will do everything if you help me: I will give you money and I will help you do the washing up and I will go to the cinema with you.

Indefinite pronouns + they

The indefinite pronouns that end in -body/-one indicate a person. If we replace these pronouns with personal or possessive pronouns we use the third person plural.

Example:
I would really like to ask someone if they knew the way.
Everybody should know their way home.

However, the indefinite pronouns that end in -thing do not refer to people and are therefore replaced with the pronoun it.

Example:
Nothing looks the way it used to.