Pronouns: indefinite pronouns


Indefinite pronouns are used to refer to people or things, e.g. Somebody stole my bicycle.

People Things Place
somebody/someone something somewhere
anybody/anyone anything anywhere
nobody/no one nothing nowhere
everybody/everyone everything everywhere

Note: When describing people, there is no difference in meaning between -one (e.g. someone) and -body (e.g. somebody). In formal language situations, the -one pronouns are more commonly used.

Use overview

The correct indefinite pronoun to use depends on if the phrase is affirmative, negative or interrogative (question).

Affirmative phrases

These can use some-, any-, no- and every- pronouns:

  • I need to eat something.
  • You can eat anything on the menu.
  • There is nothing good on the menu.
  • We looked everywhere for a restaurant.

Negative phrases

These can only use -any:

  • I can't find anything to eat.

Question phrases

These can use -any, some- or every-:

  • Does anybody want to eat with me?
  • Are you looking for somewhere to eat?
  • Have you asked everybody.

Note: when comparing to Portuguese, it is not possible to directly translate into English. Usually, each Portuguese indefinite pronoun has two possibilities in English. The choice between the two options depends on the phrase type (affirmative/negative/question)

Explanation Portuguese English
Alguém -> somebody in affirmative phrases Alguém está na porta. Somebody is at the door.
Alguém -> anybody in question phrases Alguém pode me ajudar? Can anyone help me?
Qualquer pessoa -> anybody É fácil. Qualquer pessoa consegue fazer isso. It's easy! Anyone can do it.
Alguma coisa -> something in affirmative phrases Alguma coisa está errada. Something is wrong.
Alguma coisa -> anything in question phrases Você sabe alguma coisa sobre isso? Do you know anything about this.
Qualquer coisa -> anything Me pergunte qualquer coisa. Ask me anything.
Ninguém -> nobody when ninguém is the subject Ninguém gosta de mim. Nobody likes me.
Ninguém -> nobody when ninguém is the object Eu não preciso de ninguém. I don't need anyone.
Further learning
Description Author Language
Examples of how to use 'something', 'anything', 'nothing' and 'everything'. Ask Jackie
The basic rules for using indefinite pronouns and some extra tips. Smrt English