Indefinite and Reciprocal (2023)

INDEFINITE PRONOUNS

Indefinite pronouns are derived from adjectives describing indefinite numbers or amounts; when the nouns they describe are dropped and only the adjectives remain,these become substitutions for their nouns, which by definition makes them pronouns: "Eachtoyis handmade" becomes "Eachis handmade."

Because they form from indefinite articles and other adjectives, some of them can also take comparative and superlative forms:

Among the elderly, even thoughsomeare experienced with text-messaging, andmoreare becoming comfortable with e-mail,moststill prefer the personal touch that a phone call offers.

Not all indefinite pronouns have given up their antecedent nouns, either. Instead of implying their antecedents, these indefinite pronouns have become contractions or compound forms, containing "-one," "-thing" or "-body". They are still treated as indefinite pronouns, however.

LIST OF INDEFINITE PRONOUNS

Here's a useful list, with examples.

singular
plural
Examples (Subject-Verb Agreement)
all
X
X
"All of itisup for grabs"; Plural: All of usareon vacation this week."
any
X
X
"Any of theseisa good choice"; Plural: "I apologize if anyareoffended by my comments."
anybody
X
"Anybodyknowsyou can't mix ammonia and bleach."
anyone
X
"Anyone whoisallergic to nuts shouldn't eat the brownies."
anything
X
"If anythingchangesabout his condition, let me know."
naught
X
"Naughtwas accomplishedby their efforts."
both
X
"Bothareblurry from eyestrain."
couple
X
"Only a couple of themcometo the meeting every time." [See "Words Mistaken for Indefinite Pronouns."]
each
X
"Eachrespectsthe rules."
each other
X
[Used as a reciprocal pronoun]
everybody
X
"Everybodywantsto rule the world."
everyone
X
"Everyonelovesa winner."
everything
X
"Everythingworks outin the end."
either
X
"Eitherworksto our advantage."
neither
X
"Neitheriswilling to compromise."
few
X
"Only a fewgivethis growing problem any serious consideration."
fewer
X
"Fewer than ten percenttakeaction."
even fewer
X
"Even fewerknowwhere to turn for help."
fewest
X
[In comparisons, "even fewer" is preferred as a subject instead of "fewest."]
less
X
"Less than a quarter tank of gasremains."
least
X
X
Singular: "When the least of ussuffers, we all do." Plural: "In great revolutions, the least among usimprovetheir lot."
little
X
X
"A little goes a long way."
more
X
X
Singular: "Moreis being givento fund programs like this." Plural: "More of youare improvingbasic skills in college."
any more
X
X
Singular: "Any moreis going to make me sick." Plural: "Any more than threerequirea special ownership license."
few more
X
"Afewmoreshow up each week."
many more
X
"Many more of such casesare going to startturning up."
more and more
X
"Each year more and moreare declaringbankruptcy."
much more
X
"Much more of this probablyis going to killme."
no more
X
"No more than what's necessary is ever told to her." [Unusual as a subject, unless in a passive construction.]
some more
X
X
Singular: "Some moreisavailable in the next room." Plural: "Some moreare being deliveredtomorrow."
most
X
X
Singular: "Most of this projectwasa waste of time." Plural: "Of the thirty-some hours I spent on it, mostwereunproductive."
much
X
"Much of this subjectconfusesstudents."
many
X
"Many of youare studyinggrammar for the first time in many years."
none
X
"Nonedancesas gracefully as she."[contraction "not one"]
no-one
X
"No onecares."
nothing
X
"Nothinglastsforever."
one
X
"One of youisthe winner of this contest."
other
X
"One brother sings while the otherplaysthe piano."
others
X
"The others in the familyareless talented."
another
X
"Heroes are like comets: anothershows upbefore too long."
one another
X
[Used as a reciprocal pronoun]
plenty
X
X
Plural: "Plentyhave tried to pullthe sword from the stone." Singular: "Plenty has happened between us."
remaining
X
“The remaining of usarestillworking."
several
X
"Severalhaveevencomeclose to succeeding."
some
X
X
Singular: "Some of this classhas beenremedial." Plural: "Some of our studentshave forgottenthese rules of grammar."
somebody
X
"Somebodyknowsthe answers. I don't."
someone
X
"Someone secretlylikesme."
something
X
"Something unfortunatehas happened."
somewhat
X
"Only somewhat of the truth everletsitself be known at one time."
somewhere
X
"Next year, let's travel to somewhere thatisless expensive." [When an indefinite pronoun, typically in the object case.]
such
X
X
Singular: "Suchislife." Plural: "Sucharethe dreams of the everyday people.


INDEFINITE PRONOUNS AND SUBJECTIVE-VERB AGREEMENT

Subject/verb agreement errors commonly occur as a result of the confusion over whether certain indefinite pronouns, when used as subjects, take singular forms or plural forms. (SeeVerbsfor more information.) Adding to the confusion is that a good many are collective pronouns. A "Collective Noun" is a noun that implies a plural but is really singular. In British English, this distinction leads to an exception in subject-verb agreement because singular subjects then take plural verbs: "The company are hiring"; "The House of Lords are standing firm on their position." In American English, we obey the rule and use the verb that agrees with a singular noun: "The company is hiring"; "The House of Representatives is standing firm."

Some indefinite pronouns are the exception to this in American English: they're collective pronouns that take plural verbs. For instance, "Only a few know I'm eloping." In the phrase "a few," the use of the indefinite article, "a," proves that "few" is treated as a singular pronoun, but the verb that agrees with it is still plural: "know," rather than "knows." This isn't to say that "only a few knows" is necessarily wrong, grammatically speaking; it's just wrong as accepted convention. If you doubt me, try writing both of these phrases in your word processing program and see what your grammar-check prefers. Sorry, but this is something you'll have to consider on a case-by-case basis as you study indefinite pronouns.

Otherwise, for indefinite pronouns that swing singular or plural depending on the circumstances, you can perform one of the following tests:

    1. Identify the antecedent of the indefinite pronoun.
      1. Is it a count noun or a non-count noun? (See "C" below.
        1. If it is a non-count noun, the indefinite pronoun should be singular.
        2. If it is a count noun, is it singular or is it plural (ending with –s or an irregular plural ending)? Your indefinite pronoun should follow suit.E.g., "More arrive/arrives daily."
        3. If the antecedent is "refugees" then "Refugeesarrivedaily": "Morearrivedaily" would be correct.
        4. If the antecedent is a non-count noun such as "famine relief," then "Famine reliefarrivesdaily": "Morearrivesdaily" would be correct.
    2. Follow the indefinite pronoun with the prepositional phrase, "of _____."
      1. How would you fill in the blank? Is the object of the preposition "of" singular or plural? Your indefinite pronoun should be the same.E.g., "All has/have been done as requested." All of what?
        1. If the answer is a non-count noun, the indefinite pronoun should be singular: "All of the work has been done as requested." Therefore, "Allhasbeen done as requested."
        2. If the answer is a plural count noun, the indefinite pronoun should be plural: "All of the taskshavebeen done as requested." Therefore, "All have been done as requested."
    3. CountandNon-Count Nounsare discussed at length in the chapter, "Nouns." However, a quick rule of thumb to determine whether an antecedent is one or the other is to pair them with the adjectives "less" or "fewer." Only one of these will work:
      1. because count nouns are discreet "things," they come in more orfewernumbers;
      2. non-count nouns arenotdiscreet things, but instead come in greater orlessamounts; they include mass nouns (e.g., water; grass; sky; flooring) and abstractions (e.g., diplomacy; stress; reconciliation).
      3. amount versus number
        1. something measured as an amount is singular (i.e., "an amount");
        2. if something is measured in numbers, and you can count more than one of it, it's plural (i.e., "in numbers" or "numerous")

A Note About "One"

Those who comprehend the meaning of "indefinite" as "an uncertain number or amount" may understandably object to "one" being included here; after all, "one" seems pretty darn definite. All of this is true. "One" may seem like an exception to the rules of indefinite pronouns, but it nevertheless is formed by dropping anounand leaving thequantifier (a variety of adjectives)to stand in for it, which is why it is considered a pronoun. Other numbers enjoy this same distinction: "For a quorum to be official, three must be present." "Three" what? The antecedent is missing, but assumed, just like any other indefinite pronoun. So it is with "one." Furthermore, accepted formal convention sometimes requires that "one" can be used as a genderless pronoun (e.g., "As a guest, one should always know when one's welcome has been overstayed.") For these reasons, "one" takes its place in English grammar alongside other indefinite pronouns.

MODIFYING INDEFINITE PRONOUNS

With some exceptions, when you modify indefinite pronouns with adjectives (or other comparable parts of speech), they should goafterthe pronoun:

Nothinggoodwill come of this.
Someoneunexpectedhas arrived.
For dessert,anythingsweetwill do.
Nonebornto this age shall despair.
Give the job toanyonewillingto do it.

But...

Apreciousfewactually read the original police report.
Agreatmanywould overlook the story.

The reason for these exceptions (and others like them) is quite simple. Remember, indefinite pronouns derive from quantifier adjectives, modifiers that describe vague amounts or numbers of things, people, and stuff. And those quantifier adjectives had their own adverbs to describe degree or intensity. Those adverbs include

  • precious
  • great
  • so
  • very
  • increasingly
  • even
  • ever

When quantifier adjectives substitute for the nouns they quantify, they become pronouns, and the adverbs that used to modify them now seem like adjectives but are, in fact, still behaving like adverbs. Note how the following noun phrases transform into indefinite pronoun phrases:

adverb + quantifier + noun adjective + indefinite pronoun
Precious few individualseven care. Precious feweven care.
So much scandalin one court case. So muchin one court case.
Agreat many readerswrote angry letters. Agreat manywrote angry letters.
Very few folkswere entrusted with the details of this case. Very fewwere entrusted with the details of this case.
Increasingly more detailshave surfaced the since the newspapers published story Increasingly morehave surfaced since the newspapers publishedthe story.
Even fewer peopleknow the suspectis left-handed. Even fewerknow the suspect is left-handed.


Of all these examples, the one that most clearly demonstrates the issue is the word "increasingly," which, by virtue of its -ly ending, we know to be an adverb. Yet, it is used here as an adjective would be used: to modify the pronoun "more." This is typical of the way indefinite pronouns are modified by adjectives that are really adverbs.

WORDS FREQUENTLY MISTAKEN FOR INDEFINITE PRONOUNS

Because indefinite pronouns are sometimes compound or contracted forms, a certain amount of confusion over what's an indefinite pronoun and what isn't is completely understandable. For instance, because "something," "anything," and "everything" all have the word "thing" in them, you might assume the word "thing" is an indefinite pronoun—but, no, it's no such "thing." Rather, it's an ordinary common noun. Here, then, is a list of words commonly misidentified as indefinite pronouns.

certain "-thing" words

  • thing [adjective; noun]
  • good-for-nothing [adjective; noun]
  • do-nothing [adjective; noun]
  • all-or-nothing [adjective; adverb]
  • nothingness [noun]
  • thingamajig [noun]

-ever words:

  • wherever [adverb]
  • whenever [adverb]
  • however [adverb; conjunctive adverb]

"-more" and "more-" words

  • anymore [adverb]
  • moreover [conjunctive adverb]
  • evermore [adverb]
  • once more [adverb]
  • Baltimore [a city] (j/k)

"-most" words
[any of these can be justified as indefinite pronouns, since they are all adjectives as well nouns]

  • utmost
  • topmost
  • innermost
  • midmost

"-time" words:

  • all-time [adjective]
  • all time [noun phrase]
  • full-time [adjective, adverb]
  • half-time [adjective, adverb]
  • part-time [adjective, adverb]
  • anytime [adverb]
  • every time [adverb phrase]
  • sometimes [adverb]

"-where" words

  • anywhere
  • wherever
  • everywhere
  • elsewhere
  • nowhere [adverb; noun]
  • somewheres [variant of adverb "somewhere"]

Miscellaneous words

  • somehow [adverb]
  • someway [adverb]
  • a lot [noun phrase (misspelled a lot as "alot" or "allot")]
  • couple [i.e., a romantic couple; singular noun]

DIAGRAMMING INDEFINITE PRONOUNS

The following examples shows how indefinite pronouns occupy horizontal lines and fill the role of subjects and objects, just like other nouns and pronouns. In the phrase "for so few rewards," the word "few" modifies "rewards" and is, therefore, an adjective; however, the next occurrence of "few" is as an indefinite pronoun in its comparative form and serves as the subject of a clause.

Notmanywould do anything for sofewrewards, but
evenfewerwill dosomethingfornothing.

RECIPROCAL PRONOUNS

Certain combinations of indefinite pronouns create a condition of reciprocity (a reciprocal relationship) expressed either as a pair or as a group. Fortunately, there are only two reciprocal pronouns you'll have to memorize:

each other
one another

Reciprocal pronouns always occur as objects, never subjects. For example, you would never write, “Each other showed tolerance and compassion,” but, rather, “They showed each other tolerance and compassion.”

Despite what you may have read on the internet, or heard from a well-meaning tutor, “each other” and "one another” should not be used interchangeably, even if informally. “Each other” should only ever be used when the reciprocal relationship is between exactly two people or things, whereas “one another” should be used only when the reciprocity affects three or more. The justification for this is to be found in the prepositions we would use to substitute for reciprocal pronouns. Consider the following example:

He doesn't understand his grandson's polyamorous relationship with another man and woman. How, he wondered, could all three of them loveeach other / one anotherat the same time?

If you chose “each other” and not “one another,” then you might be just as confused about polyamory as the grandfather is. “Each other" would be used only if the arrangement were between two couples, in which either a heterosexual woman or a bisexual man were at the center of amenage-a-trois, two relationships distributed between three people; such a threesome is not considered polyamorous in the strictest sense of the word (though, not everyone is as strict about the sense of the word, either). “One another” would be used in a polyamorous arrangement to suggest that there is just one relationship among the three of them, and all three participate in it equally and at the same time; the implication, here, is that both men are in love with each other as well as with the woman, so the love is distributed among them equally. Vend diagrams help to illustrate the matter:

How about this example?

The brothers and sisters of this family have been waging a war for many years. The many fights they have had witheach other / one anotherhave caused irreparable damage.

Which should you choose, “each other” or "one another”? The answer depends on whetherone relationship(betweenthe group of brothers of the family and the group of sisters) is at stake in a war of the sexes, or whether two or more relationships (amongall the siblings, regardless of gender) are at odds in a melee of sibling rivalry.

The prepositions “between" and “among” are the equivalent of the reciprocal pronouns “each other” and “one another.”

each other =betweenjust two
"Between" means "to be in a pair exactly two in number"; "tween" is the adjective form of “two.”

one another =amongthree or more

"Among" means to be in a crowd of three or more; "among" is derived from the same root word as the verb “mingle."

However, if ever you're confused by them, you can easily break up the reciprocal pronoun into indefinite pronouns, making one the subject and the other the object:

Eachshowed theothertolerance and compassion.
Oneshowed theotherstolerance and compassion.

DIAGRAMMING RECIPROCAL PRONOUNS

There's no trick to placing a reciprocal pronoun on a diagram. Like any other pronoun, it goes on a horizontal line as either a direct object or an indirect object.

My two parrots sometimes talk toeach other.

The five committee members still respectone another, even though they have frequent disagreements.

Related Resources

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