What is an indefinite pronoun?
Who’s that pronoun over there by the bar without an antecedent?
Oh, her? She’s an indefinite pronoun.
What’s an indefinite pronoun?
I’m glad you asked.
As indicated in this slightly improbable imaginary conversation, indefinite pronouns do not refer to any particular noun. They do not refer to a specific person, thing, object or place.
They are a mixed bag of words, and there are several ways to slice and dice them. We have partitives like any, anybody, anyone, either, neither, nobody, no, someone and some; there are also universals, including every, all, both and each; if you like existentials, there are assertive ones (somebody, something) and elective ones (anybody, anything); finally, there are the quantifiers – any, some, several, enough, many and much. You could spend all day dividing them into different classifications, and it seems more than a few linguists have.
Many of these pronouns also perform the roles of other parts of speech. For example, in the phrase, All good boys deserve fudge, all operates as an indefinite adjective, but in All for one and one for all it is a pronoun.
There are a couple of rules. For example, negative sentences can only use the pronouns beginning with any, such as I can’t give you anything to eat right now; I can’t give you something does not quite hit the right note.
There is also the theory that questions including some rather than any are asked with the expectation of a positive answer. For example, asking Do you know something about this? should be asked in a more suspicious tone than Do you know anything?
Let’s not forget the generic you either, where no actual second person is being referenced: you win some, you lose some, for one.
Examples of indefinite pronouns
|uncountable quantifier pronoun||enough, little, much, plenty, more|
|countable quantifier pronoun||several, few, fewer, many|
|dual indefinite pronouns||neither, both, either|
|pronouns that are single and/or plural||none, all, some, many, such|