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Indefinite, Vague, and Reflexive Pronouns

Updated on December 21, 2013

 Okay, kids. We're going to talk about pronouns again.

Come back here.

Okay, so today I want to focus on three sub-categories of pronouns: (see title).

Let's start with perhaps the most confusing - indefinite. Unlike pronouns that refer to a specific person, place, or thing, indefinite pronouns are used when the identity of the antecedent (word that the pronoun replaces) is not important or not known.

Here are some common indefinite pronouns: another, each, nobody, someone, many, several

Now the first four on this short list are singular indefinite. They refer to items and people (typically), but function as singular. Let's look at a few sentences using these.

Another child (one of many) has gone missing.

Each bill (not just the cheap ones) needs to be paid.

Nobody likes to part with his or her money. (Yes, this is correct - more later.)

Someone (could be male, could be female, could be a couple, etc.) has left a generous tip!

Most singular indefinite pronouns can be recognized by the ending of the word:

other: another, other

body: anybody, everybody, nobody, somebody

one: anyone, everyone, no one, one, someone

thing: anything, everything, nothing, something

Notice how body, one, and thing are singular in themselves. That's a way to remember some of the list. Now, because they function as singular, all pronouns used in connection must be singular.

Many believe this to be correct: Nobody likes to part with their money. Yet, 'nobody' is singular. That 'nobody' could be a male or a female. To make this work then, 'their' needs to be changed to 'his or her.' Nobody likes to part with his or her money. This is the point that most of my students fight me on. Sorry kids, I win this one. This same rule applies across  all singular indefinite. For example...

Somebody left their wallet behind. No, sorry. Somebody left his or her wallet behind. ('Their' is plural.)

Everyone has their own pet peeves. I get it. It looks like it makes sense. Everyone is everyone. It must be plural! However, it is singular (each and every person = everyone) and thus...

Everyone has his or her own pet peeves.

The plural (both, few, many, others, several) indefinite pronouns are simpler.

Few adults follow their childhood dreams.

Several bills are staking their claim in my brain.

(Do you sense a theme? Yikes!)

Before leaving this, some pronouns do function as either singular or plural, depending on their use. Let's consider "all." (How Deepak Chopra.)

I want ALL of the chocolate. Since 'all' focuses as a total singular product, it is singular.

All teachers must renew their certification. 'All' here is plural. If I changed the beginning, the pronoun would change. A teacher (singular) must renew his or her certification. Fun, huh?

Moving on.

Vague pronouns occur when a pronoun can refer to more than one antecedent (original noun).

Charlie told Robert that he was a good singer.

Now, is the good singer Charlie or Robert? It could be read both ways. Thus, in this sentence, 'he' is a vague pronoun.

Charlie told Julia that he was a good singer.

Julia is female, thus the 'he' must be ole Charlie bragging about himself again. 'He' is not vague in this sentence.

Joshua asked Daniel about his brother.

Whose brother? Joshua's or Daniel's? You get my point?

There are other aspects to vague pronouns, but the gist of this is the following: Carefully read your writing with a cynic's eye. If any part of it could be misunderstood, some re-writing is necessary.

Now onto our last idea before the summer sun makes me want to take an early nap.

Reflexive pronouns are only used when a subject does an action to himself or herself (or: when subjects do an action to themselves).

All singular reflexive pronouns end in "self." All plural reflexive pronouns end in "selves."

I congratulated myself on my efforts.

You should be proud of yourself for what you have accomplished.

Mary gave herself permission to relax.

Stephen asks himself too many questions.

I wish my dinner would cook itself.   (Wouldn't that be wonderful? I somehow manage to destroy just-add-water pancakes.)

We don't often go out, so we often eat by ourselves.

This class was wonderful. Give yourselves a round of applause.

Chuck and Buck helped themselves to the buffet.

Reflexive pronouns tend to be overused.

I myself don't like it.

There is no need for the word 'myself' here. It's not correct, either.

Myself and my family went there.

This is also incorrect. 'Myself' is not a subjective pronoun. Thus, My family and I went there. (Always place yourself last unless you're at a buffet, and then by all means, go first.)

Theirselves and hisself are not proper English either.

Alright, kids. There is so much more I could say on this topic, but I think you get my drift. Have YOURSELF a good night. (I doubt many of you are reading this with someone on your side.) I should stop over-thinking this before I stop with my pet phrase of "kids."


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    • profile image

      ranulfo del mar pinay 5 years ago

      is it correct to say "google and her million of subscribers" ?

    • Matt Cogswell profile image

      Matt Cogswell 4 years ago

      Google can be considered a company, so to use the possessive form, you should say "Google and its millions..."

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