Indefinite pronouns: Singular or plural?

In most cases, we know if a pronoun is singular (referring to one person or thing) or plural (referring to two or more people or things) – she, me and I are singular while us, them, and they are plural. Such words are called definite pronouns. But a few pronouns – each, anyone, everything, no one, somebody – aren’t so clear. Sometimes these indefinite pronouns can be either singular or plural; that is, they lack a “definite” meaning. These indefinite pronouns can cause havoc when writing.

An indefinite pronoun always must match the verb’s number. So if a pronoun is singular, then the verb must be singular; if a pronoun is plural, then the verb must be plural. For example, in the sentence…

Of the two guys I met, one has asked me for my phone number.

…one is an indefinite pronoun. It is singular (one refers to a lone guy), and therefore the verb has asked must be singular.

To determine if an indefinite pronoun and its verb should be singular or plural, you must look at how the pronoun is used in the context of the sentence. If it refers to a single entity or a group that acts as a lone, single thing, then the verb should be singular. If it refers to a group of things that act independently within the group, then the verb should be plural. For example:

Everything is forgiven. (Everything is singular because it refers to all transgressions in their entirety.)

All of the football players were sore after the rough game. (All is plural because it refers to football players, who could be sore in different ways.)

One trick to determining if the indefinite pronoun is singular or plural is to see if it has a prepositional phrase next to it. In the last example, of the football players is the prepositional phrase and is plural. Therefore the indefinite pronoun and its verb must be plural as well.