English grammar

Module 2, Pronouns, Lesson 11:

Indefinite Pronoun Agreement

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English grammar
Indefinite Pronouns
Singular Plural Singular or Plural
another
each
either
much
neither
one
other
anybody, anyone, anything
everybody, everyone, everything
nobody, no one, nothing
somebody, someone, something
both
few
many
others
several
all
any
more
most
none
some

You learned in an earlier lesson that indefinite pronouns fall into three categories: some are singular, some plural, and others fall into either category depending on the context of the sentence. When using an indefinite pronoun and a possessive pronoun in the same sentence, people often choose the plural possessive pronoun their, but that's not always the correct choice. Singular indefinite pronouns take singular possessives, and plural indefinite pronouns take plural possessives.

Everybody needs his or her pencil.
(singular indefinite pronoun + singular possessive pronoun)

Many will need their tablets.
(plural indefinite pronoun + plural possessive pronoun)

Sometimes an indefinite pronoun is followed by a prepositional phrase like this: of the + noun. Beware of this type of phrase. The indefinite and possessive pronouns still need to agree in number. It doesn't matter whether the noun in of the + noun is singular or plural. Look at the examples below to get a better understanding of how to handle this type of phrase.

Each of the students is missing his or her homework.
Even though the noun students is plural, the indefinite pronoun each is singular, so you cannot use the plural possessive their. Use the singular, gender-neutral possessive his or her.

Many of the students are missing their homework.
In this sentence, it's necessary to use the plural possessive pronoun their because of the plural indefinite pronoun many (not because of the noun students).

With pronouns that can be either singular or plural, you need to look closely at the prepositional phrase of the + noun in order to determine whether the meaning is singular or plural.

All of the cake is missing its frosting.
All of the cake is a singular quantity. You have only one cake.

All of the cake slices are missing their frosting.
All of the slices is a plural quantity. You can count how many slices of cake there are.

All of the students are missing their notebooks.
All of the students is a plural quantity. You can count the students.

Also remember that singular indefinite pronouns take singular verb forms while plural indefinite pronouns take plural verb forms. Note the difference between the singular everyone needs and the plural many need. Click here for more information on agreement with verbs.

Practice What You've Learned

English grammar
Directions:
Choose the pronoun that correctly completes each sentence.
1.
All of the sunbathers need to grab towels and get to shelter before the thunderstorm hits.
his, her, their, his/her
2.
In school, most of the girls bring books to class.
her, their
3.
Several of the teachers in my school post assignments online.
his/her, their
4.
One of the boys on my team forgot to bring gear.
his, their
5.
None of the dessert has coconut in .
it, them
6.
After school, both of my sisters did homework.
her, their
7.
Much of my homework very easy tonight.
is, are
8.
Each of the drivers in the race must fill out registration before the deadline.
his/her, their
9.
Both of the brothers had to pool money to buy a new car.
his, their
10.
Neither of my grandmothers has ridden in an airplane in life.
her, their
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