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Tricky Indefinite Pronouns:

In most cases, it is clear whether a pronoun's antecedent is singular or plural. For instance, the word girls is plural, so it needs a plural pronoun like they or them or their. On the other hand, the word girl is singular, so it clearly needs a singular pronoun like she or her.

But what about indefinite pronouns--such as all, any, both, each, every, few, many, neither, nobody, and none? They do not refer to a specific, definite person. Thus they are called "indefinite pronouns." The indefinite pronouns are a bit trickier than relative pronouns. To know which form to use (singular or plural), you need to memorize the following lists.

The following pronouns are always singular grammatically, even though it might seem they should be plural:

  • each
  • anybody
  • somebody
  • nobody
  • everybody
  • one
  • anyone

  • everyone
  • someone
  • neither
  • either
  • nothing
  • anything
  • everything
  • something

NOTE: A good rule of thumb to remember is that all the words ending in -one, -thing, and -body are singular. Thus, in formal grammar, we would write sentences such as "everyone took his book to class with him" or "everybody in the cheerleading squad took her gymbag with her to the game."

The words ending in -one and -body must use a singular form, even though these words might seem to be plural when we think of "everybody in a crowd" or "everybody in Texas." Don't think of the word that way. Instead, think of it as being equivalent to "every single individual." For example, "Every single student took his book to class with him" is equivalent to "everyone took his book to class with him." Just as each single student is singular, everyone is also considered singular.

Remember that these pronouns all use singular verbs. We write that, "Everybody is here." We don't write, "Everybody are here." Just as everybody uses a singular form of the verb, in the same way, it must use other singular pronouns in reference to itself when it is the antecedent in a sentence.

The following sentences in red are incorrect grammatically:

NO! WRONG! "Everyone took their book to class with them that day." The sentence should state, "Everyone took his book with him that day" or "Everyone took her book with her to class that day."

NO! WRONG! "Nobody brought their homework, however." The sentence should state, "Nobody brought his homework" or "Nobody brought her homework."

NO! WRONG! " Someone left their socks in the hallway." The sentence should state, "Somebody left her socks in the hallway" or "Somebody left his socks in the hallway."

On the Other Hand . . . 

However, the following pronouns are always plural in grammatical usage:

    • both
    • several
    • few
    • many
    • all

These words all require plural pronouns (like they, them, and their) and they all use plural verbs.

For example, the following sentences in blue are punctuated correctly, but those sentences in red are incorrect grammatically:

YES! CORRECT! Both of them are coming home tonight.

NO! WRONG! Both of them is coming home tonight.

YES! CORRECT! Several performances are scheduled for next week.

NO! WRONG! Several performances is scheduled for next week.

YES! CORRECT! All are guilty of transgression in their hearts.

NO! WRONG! All is guilty of transgression in his heart.

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