Everybody Uses Indefinite Pronouns

We have a question from the Peanut Gallery today:

“Is everybody singular or plural?”

To answer, I will launch into a lesson on a certain group of compound indefinite pronouns that includes:

Anybody, anyone, anything

Everybody, everyone, everything

Nobody, no one  (Note: two words!), nothing

Somebody, someone, something

First of all, the –body and –one pairs of words mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably.

Knock, Knock.  Is anybody home?  Yoo-hoo!  Is anyone home?

Nobody is home; no one at all.

Secondly, these compound words can be used as two separate words in certain circumstances. If you are purposefully being indefinite, use the single word. If you are singling out a particular element of a group, then use two words.

The AP Style Guide gives the following examples:

Indefinite:  Anyone can do that.

Singling out:  Any one of them can speak up. (Think: any single one)

Here’s another example:

Everyone had a good time at the party.

After the party, every one of us had to take a cab home. (Every single one.)

The third thing to remember about these compound indefinite pronouns is that they are singular. While “everybody” might sound like a lot of people, it is still a singular body and takes a singular verb. Also, as singular subjects, they do not take a plural referring pronoun.

Bad Examples:

Somebody has been shirking their duties.

Everybody who doesn’t do their work is in trouble.

To correct these sentences, you should use “his,” “her,” or “his or her” instead of “their.”

In English, it’s hard to assign a gendered pronoun to refer to an indefinite pronoun, because you’re basically fuzzy on the gender in the first place. I suppose you could use “one’s” instead of “his or her,” but it is grammatically correct (although not fully inclusive) to say:

Everybody should use his indefinite pronouns correctly.

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