Indefinite Pronouns

What are Indefinite Pronouns?

Indefinite pronouns are used when we want to talk about people or things in general without referring to somebody or something specific. In English, they are words like "someone," "anything," and "nobody."

In German, they include: etwas, nichts, jeder, man, jemand, niemand, and their declined versions. Note: not all of them have to be declined.

Example:

  • „Bringst du mir etwas zu essen mit?“

(= bring something, it isn't specified what)

  • „Bringst du mir einen Döner mit?“

(= something concrete and specific - it should be a doner and not something else!)

Types of Indefinite Pronouns

There are indefinite pronouns for people:

          „man“ – „jemand“ – „niemand

There are indefinite pronouns for things:

          etwas“ – „nichts“ – „alles“ – „welch-

There are indefinite pronouns for people and things:

          jede“ – „einige“ – „mache“ – „ein“ – „kein“ – „all-

Indefinite Pronouns Only for People

These indefinite pronouns can only be used for people: „man“ – „jemand“ – „niemand“

The Indefinite Pronoun "man"

"Man" ("one") is impersonal and can stand for one or more people

It is always in third person singular and must be declined

Example:

  • „Hier muss man einem immer alles 3 Mal erklären!“

It's important to know that German uses "man" a lot of times when you would use "you" in English. When talking about what a general person should or must do, don't use "du" - only use "du" when really talking about what the person in front of you should or must do.

The Indefinite Pronouns "jemand" / "niemand"

"Jemand" ("somebody") refers to one unspecified person and therefore is only used in third person singular. In informal language the declension is often left out.

"Niemand" ("nobody") is the negative form of "jemand."

Examples:

  • „Spricht hier jemand Deutsch?“ – (No one answers)
  • „Schade, niemand spricht hier Deutsch.“
  • „Wenn man jemanden braucht, ist niemand da.“

"Jemand" can also be combined with "irgend."  This makes it even more unspecified.

  • Irgendjemand wird das schon machen.“

Indefinite Pronouns Only for Things

The indefinite pronouns for things are:  „etwas“ – „nichts“ – „alles“ – „welch-“.

The Indefinite Pronoun "etwas"

"Etwas" isn’t changeable → No declension

It is a replacement for unspecified things or situations.

It can also be strengthened with "irgend-" to make it even more unspecified. In informal language it will often be shorted to "was."

  • „Hörst du etwas?
  • „Ja, da ist irgendetwas!“
Achtung Hinweis

Warning:

"Etwas" has a second meaning - "ein bisschen" or "a little bit"

  • Etwas mehr Erholung würde dir sicher gut tun.“
  • „Hast du etwas mehr Geld für mich, Papa?“


The Indefinite Pronoun "alles"

"Alles" ("all") has a strong universal meaning. "Alles" stands for uncountable things or actions.

  • „Ich mache am liebsten alles allein.“
  • Alles oder nichts!“

"Nichts" ("nothing") is the negation of "alles."

"Alles" refers to situations, things, and actions where we cannot determine the gender.

The Indefinite Pronoun "nichts"

"Nichts" ("nothing") is the negative form of "etwas" and is also unchangeable.

  • „Hast du etwas gehört?“  - „Nein ich habe nichts gehört.“
  • „Heute ist wieder nichts passiert.“
  • „Ich werde heute nichts machen.“
Achtung Hinweis

Warning!

Don't confuse "nichts" ("nothing") with the negation word "nicht" ("not")!

Indefinite Pronouns for People and Things

These words can also be used as articles. If there is a noun after it, it’s an article. If not, it’s a pronoun. It’s important to recognize this because the declension is sometimes different.

Example:

  • „Ich will jeden Tag Sport machen." ⇒ Article
  • Jeder will  gesund leben.“ ⇒ Indefinite Pronoun

The Indefinite Pronoun "jede"

„Jede“ is declined like a definite article (der, die, das…), taking the same ending (der ⇒ jeder, ...).

The corresponding noun must be singular.

"Jede" describes each individual part of a group.

  • Jeder will ein iPhone.“ – Jeder Mensch
  • „Ich bin mit jedem zufrieden.“ – mit jedem Schüler
  • „Wir haben jeden angerufen.“ – Jeden Kunden

The Indefinite Pronoun "alle"

"All-" must be declined like a definite article (der, die, das…).

The corresponding noun must be plural.

It describes the entire group.

  • Alle wollen ein iPhone.“ – All people
  • Ich bin mit allen zufrieden.“ – With all the students
  • Wir haben alle angerufen.“ – All the customers

The Indefinite Pronouns "einige" / "manche"

"Einige" ("some") and "manche" ("some") in singular always refer to things → Ending "-es"

In plural they can also refer to people.

They stand for an unspecified amount

  • Einige müssen den Test wiederholen.“
  • „Ich würde manches ändern.“

"Einige" and "manche" are often used as articles and more rarely as pronouns.

The Indefinite Pronouns "ein-" and "kein-"

The indefinite pronouns „ein-“ and „kein-“ stand for already mentioned or known, non-specific nouns.

„Kein-“ is the negation of „ein-“. (See the lesson on Negation).

The declension is the same as with possessive pronouns.

 In plural, „ein“ becomes „welch-“. 

„Kein-“ has the same endings and also exists in plural.

Examples:

  • „Hast du ein Auto?“  - „Ja, ich habe eins.“ / „Nein, ich habe keins.“
  • „Gibst du mir noch ein paar Äpfel?“  - „Ja, hier hast du welche.“ / „Nein, du bekommst keine mehr.“
Achtung Hinweis

Warning:

If we talk about something uncountable, we have to replace "ein" with "welche" in singular as well. This only works for things, since people are always countable.

  • „Ich brauche noch Salz! Hast du noch welches?“
  • „Nein, aber frag mal Frau Meier, sie hat bestimmt welches!“

Related Topics:

Pronouns often have to be declined based on their case, so it's important to know when to use nominative, accusativedative, and genitive.

Here are the different types of pronouns you need to know: Demonstrative PronounsPersonal PronounsPossessive PronounsRelative PronounsReflexive Pronouns, and Indefinite Pronouns.

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