Indefinite Pronouns in Negative Sentences

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29 October 2020

Imagine you are listening to music in English. Perhaps you hear a few words from "Something," performed by The Beatles.

Something in the way she moves

Attracts me like no other lover

You might wonder about the title, or name, of the song. The word something belongs to a group of words known as expanded indefinite pronouns. We will explore some of these terms today. But first, let us begin with a few definitions.

Definitions and problems

In another Everyday Grammar program, we reported on expanded indefinite pronouns. Expanded indefinite pronouns are words that end in –thing, -body, or –one. Examples include something, anybody, everyone, or nothing.

Make sure you read our earlier story if you have questions about how native speakers make such words.

Many English learners face a problem when trying to use expanded indefinite pronouns. It is unclear how native English speakers use these unusual pronouns - especially when they appear in negative or affirmative sentences.

Negative sentences have the word ‘no,' ‘not' or sometimes another negative word such as ‘never.'

Affirmative sentences are statements that have a positive meaning. They generally do not have a negative word.

In general, the negative word determines, or decides, the pronoun that is used. Let us explore this idea in more detail.

Some vs. any

English speakers often use expanded pronouns with "some-" in affirmative sentences, as in:

Would you like something sweet to eat?

Yes, I would like something sweet.

But, expanded pronouns with the word "any" often appear in negative sentences, as in:

Did you see something?

No, I didn't see anything.


Did you see somebody?

No, I didn't see anybody.

Take our earlier example about sweets. Imagine how the sentence would change if it were negative:

Would you like something sweet to eat?

No thanks – I don't feel like anything sweet.

What about no- and every- ?

In general, English speakers use expanded pronouns with the word "no" in statements that do not have another negative word. In other words, sentences with pronouns such as "nothing," "no one," or "nobody" rarely if ever have other negative terms such "no" or "never."

Imagine you are watching an American crime show on television (TV). Perhaps the police are questioning a suspect.

What did you see?

I saw nothing.

But if the suspect used another negative word, the sentence would change, as in:

What did you see?

I didn't (did not) see anything.

Our final expanded indefinite pronouns today begin with the word "every-." Such words are flexible, meaning they can appear in affirmative or negative sentences. Here are a few examples:

I spoke to everyone.

I didn't speak to everyone.

I agreed with everything she said.

I didn't agree with everything she said.

Closing thoughts

Remember that you might hear native speakers use expanded indefinite pronouns in different ways. The goal of this report was to give you an idea of how English speakers often use such pronouns. Our goal was not to tell you how native speakers always use these pronouns.

At the beginning of this report, you heard part of "Something" by The Beatles.

Something in the way she moves

Attracts me like no other lover

The next time you watch a TV show or movie in English, try to listen for examples of expanded indefinite pronouns. Listen to how and when the speakers use each pronoun. In other words, pay attention to these words, in the same way that The Beatles were paying close attention to the woman in the song.

With time, patience, and repetition, you might one day think to yourself: There is nothing too difficult about these pronouns. Or maybe: I cannot think of anything easier than English grammar.

I'm John Russell.

John Russell wrote this report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

grammar – n. the structure and whole system of a language

attract – v. to cause (someone) to like or be interested in something — usually used as (be) attracted

indefinite – adj. unclear in meaning or detail

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