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,
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
The following pronouns are always singular grammatically,
even though it might seem they should be plural:
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:
"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
On the Other Hand . . .
However, the following pronouns are always plural in grammatical
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.