Sometimes someone may feel like saying something about something but can't think of anything definite so say. Any time that happens to you, a rich array indefinite pronouns are available in Russian. The problem with indefinite pronouns is that they provide you with very little information; rather, they simply tell the listener that you have in mind some noun, verb, or adjective but don't know (or can't remember) exactly what it is.
When Russian Pronouns are Indefinite
Like English, Russian has two sets of indefinite pronouns although one set has two sets of forms, so you might want to say that Russian has three formal paradigms to cover the same two sets of meanings we find in English and other Indo-European languages. This actually makes Russian simpler than English because you have a wider range of choices as to how you express indefiniteness in Russian than in English.
As you can see from the first paragraph of this page, the indefinite pronouns express the concepts of the English pronouns beginning with some- (someone (somebody), somewhere, somehow) and any- (anyone, anywhere, anyhow). In Russian these expressions are created by the environmentally safe process of recycling the highly reusable interrogative pronouns (yet again). To form the specific indefinite pronouns in Russian you add the suffix -то to the appropriate interrogative pronoun; to form the non-specific indefinite pronouns you add either the suffix -нибудь or -либо to the interrogative pronoun. In either case, with these suffixes you leave the hyphen in.
Russian Indefinite Pronouns Specific Non-specific I Non-specific II что-то
a certain amount
for some reason
for any reason
for any reason
In English, of course, we don't say somewhy or anywhy and we don't have an interrogative pronoun of measure corresponding to Russian сколько "how much". We have to go around our elbow to get to our thumb and use long phrases like for what reason and a certain amount to say the same thing. As usual, Russian is simplerso what's new? Also, remember that all pronouns built on кто, что, чей and какой must be declined according to case the same way they are declined without the suffixes.
Uses for Indefinite Pronouns
There is one characteristic of these pronouns in Russian which you must keep in mind: the Russians draw the line between what is specific and non-specfic at a different place than we do. For example, we always say Someone called if someone did and would never say Anyone called since, if one of us took the call, we know the person who called specifically (by name or at least by voice). Russians may announce a telephone call either by saying кто-то позвонил or by saying кто-нибудь позвонил. The difference is whether the Russian knows the caller personally or by name.
It follows that the Russian definition of 'specificity' is much more restricted than ours. As a result, the number of cases where we would use the 'some-form' is much larger than those where we would use the 'any-forms' while in Russian the нибудь forms are more numerous than the to forms. What to do? A good rule of thumb is the following:
The Indefinite Pronoun Rule If you can add or other to the some-form in English, you must use the нибудь- form in Russian: something or other = что-нибудь.
For example, in English we would tend to say Someone or other called but he didn't tell me his name but Someone by the name of 'Boris'. In Russian you would have to say Кто-нибудь позвонил а не сказал, как его зовут but Кто-то по имени Бориса позвонил.
Here are some sentences containing indefinite pronouns to give you a better idea of how they are used in actual speech.
Кто-нибудь заходил пока ты заходила за покупками. Someone dropped by while you were out shopping. Она что-то сказала, что испугало его. She said something that frightened him. Он украл чью-то книгу, а владелец вызвал милицию. He stole someone's book and the owner called the police. Мне все равно; возьмите какие-нибудь билеты. I don't care; get any kind of tickets (you can). Я как-нибудь справлюсь. I'll make out somehow. Я где-то ее видела, но не помню точно где. I saw it somewhere but I don't remember exactly where. Он куда-то пошел, но не сказал куда. He went somewhere but didn't say where. Вы когда-нибудь посещали Дисней Уорлд? Have you ever (sometime or other) visited Disney World? Она ему сколько-нибудь дала, но я не знаю сколько. She gave him some amount but I don't know how much. Не сиди весь день; сделай что-нибудь! Don't sit around all day; do something (or other)!
Got the hang of it? Let's try a few exercises to find out.
Indefinite Pronoun Exercises
Here are a few exercises to test your grasp of the personal in Russian. Choose the correct case form of the pronoun listed to the right of the sentence and type it into the appropriate space
The indefinite pronouns beginning with any- in English are also used to replace negative pronouns in negated sentences in English, e.g. I saw nothing versus I didn't see anything. Russian allows multiple negatives, e.g. Я никогда ничего нигде не видел "I never didn't see nothing nowhere" ("I didn't see anything anywhere ever"). However, it does derive its negative pronouns from the same set of pronouns the indefinite pronouns are based on: the interrogative pronouns. So, if you know the interrogative pronouns, you are half-way to knowing the whole pronominal system. To see what I mean let's take a look at the negative pronouns now.
Lexiteria LLC, Lewisburg, PA 17837
© 1996 Robert Beard