What are indefinite pronouns? – Every, any, some and no
Level: Beginner Reading Time: 6 minutes Category: Vocabulary
Words like everything, anything, something and nothing (or indefinite pronouns as us teachers call them) are really useful words in English.
Understanding the differences and using them correctly is a little more difficult.
In this lesson, I will show you everything you need to know about 4 very common prefixes in the English language. Every, any, some and no.
By the end of this article, you will know what these indefinite pronouns mean and how to use them with confidence.
What are indefinite pronouns?
Indefinite pronouns are what English teachers like me call words like everything, anything, something and nothing. They are words that usually don’t refer to any specific person, place, amount or thing.
There are other indefinite pronouns, that we will cover in future lessons, but today we are going to be focussing on some, any, every and no.
Each of these prefixes work in the same way in terms of how you use them. You add them to the beginning of other words to change the meaning of the main word. This is how all prefixes work.
What is a prefix?
A prefix is something that you add to the beginning of a word to change the meaning of that word. These are very common in English and they are used in lots of ways.
Words like, insecure-, untidy-, antidepressant, replay-, disconnected, midnight and semifinal all use prefixes.
Each prefix has it’s own meaning and is pretty much the same every time you add it at the beginning of the word. Look at these examples:
In each case, the prefix un has the meaning of “opposite” or “not“. The same is true for the 4 prefixes we are talking about in today’s lesson.
What do we put after the prefix in indefinite pronouns?
In terms of indefinite pronouns, you will often see –body, -thing, -where and -one. The word you choose will tell the listener what group of things you are talking about.
- -body – this means you are talking about people
- -thing – this means you are talking about objects
- -where – this means you are talking about places
- –one – this also means you are talking about people.
Why should you learn indefinite pronouns?
Indefinite pronouns are very useful in English. They help us to communicate efficiently and easily with other speakers.
Imagine trying to explain “somebody broke the window” without using the word someone. You would have to say something like:
- one specific person who we did not identify, or who’s identity is not important broke the window.
As you can see, these words make it easy to express difficult ideas and save a lot of time when we are speaking. Please try to learn them and you will be able to speak more confidently.
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What does every mean?
Every means all the things.
We use it when we want to talk about all the things in a particular group. Here are some examples:
- Everyone enjoyed the party.
- I hate everything about her.
- Everywhere we went was wonderful.
- I heard a loud bang. Is everybody OK?
What does some mean?
Some is used to mean an unknown thing.
We can use it to talk in general or to talk about something that the listener doesn’t know about. Here are some examples:
- Do you want something to drink?
- Are you going somewhere nice on holiday this year?
- Somebody broke the window?!?
- I need to get someone to clean my car.
What does Any mean?
We use any to refer to both an unlimited set of things and specific things.
It basically means “It doesn’t matter which one“. From all the options, they are all ok, so whichever one is selected is fine. Here are some examples:
- Has anyone got a phone charger?
- Anybody can learn English.
- I don’t really mind where we eat today. Anywhere is fine.
- Do you want anything from the supermarket?
Generally, words that start with the any prefix have a positive meaning and are used in affirmative sentences.
What does no mean?
No is used to talk about a lack of things, places or people.
It means none of the things and is usually used with singular nouns, just like the other indefinite pronouns in this lesson. Here are some examples:
- Nobody attended the voluntary meeting.
- No one called me last weekend.
- There was nowhere to park in the city centre.
- Nothing happens quickly around here.
What is the difference between someone and somebody?
We use both of these words to talk about people. There is no difference in the meaning.
In writing and more formal situations you will see people use someone more than somebody but other than that, they are basically the same.
We can use also somebody or someone to talk about people when we do not know their gender.
- Never judge someone by the way they look. = Never judge a person by the way he or she looks.
The same is true with anyone/anybody, everyone/everybody and no one/nobody.
Is it nobody or not anybody?
This is a really common question. They basically mean the same thing, but indefinite pronouns using no are more negative and a bit stronger than ones that use not + any.
However, there are a couple of extra things you need to know about here.
We never use words like nothing in sentences with negative verbs like didn’t, haven’t, seldom or hardly. This creates a double negative and in English, this is a big no-no. For example:
- I didn’t do nothing. – This has two negatives which means it has the opposite meaning. This sentence actually means “I did something”
When the indefinite pronouns is the subject of the sentence, we don’t use any. Therefore, we only use indefinite pronouns with no. For example:
- Nothing you can say will make me calm down. –
Not anything you can say will make me calm down.
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