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November 19, 2011

Something, Anything, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody

Something, anything, somebody, anybody, nobody; How do I keep these strange indefinite collective nouns straight?

As much as I love English, these words seem to be the hardest to learn - and certainly...

...the hardest to teach.

A simple object name as a noun, a chair, a hat, a dog is relatively simple; you point to an object, or even a picture of an object and learn the word for it. But to learn a word like "anything" you have to know a full range of related - or even unrelated words. After all, a word like "anything" could mean literally, anything.

These are called indefinite pronouns because they are, ahem "indefinite," meaning not defined. These are the words you use when you are not (or cannot be) specific.

Here are some observations based on experience on how to use some of these crazy words.

Use somebody, something, someone or somewhere when you don’t say exactly who, what or where. (Somebody is calling me on my phone; something odd just happened; somewhere in the world a child is being born.)

Use anything, anybody, anywhere in questions or with a negative verb (Is anybody home? I didn’t do anything wrong).

Use nobody, nothing, nowhere in short, one word sentence, negative answers or in a sentence with a positive verb. (Who is the King of France? Nobody.)

If you are interested in the whole idea of "nothing" take a look here - http://www.nothing.net/deult.html.

And, as always, some unspecified person put together a poem which clarifies, or parodies this whole set of words.

A Poem About Everybody, Somebody and Nobody

Once upon a time, there were four people...

Their names were Everybody, Somebody, Nobody and Anybody.

Whenever there was an important job to be done,
Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.

Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
When Nobody did it, Everybody got angry because...
it was Everybody's job!

Everybody thought that Somebody would do it,
but Nobody realized that Nobody would do it.

So, consequently, Everybody blamed Somebody...
when Nobody did what Anybody could have done in the first place!

- Anonymous

As always, send us any words or phrases that make you crazy and be sure to let us know what it is about English and language learning that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing , constantly shifting linguistic landscape.

Morf

About the author of this entry:

Morf has a B.A.from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and an MAT (Master's in Teaching English) from the University of Washington (Seattle).

Posted by mmorf at November 19, 2011 09:58 PM

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