Indefinite pronouns replace nouns with an indefinite meaning.

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
to somewhere
to anywhere
to anywhere
from somewhere
from anywhere
from anywhere
from anytime
from anytime
a certain amount
(some amount)
(some 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 simpler—so 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

Learner's Keyboard Standard  keyboard Standard KeyboardLearner's keyboard

Learner's letter-for-letter and standard Russian keyboard layouts are available here if you need them. They will disappear when you scroll down this page. Refresh them by clicking the browser icon that comes up with them. Close the window in the usual way by clicking the "X" in the upper righthand corner. Be sure your popup blocker is off!

Indefinite Pronoun Exercises
Fill in the correct form of the pronouns to the left Push Response

Он ей сказал, и она ушла.
He said something to her and she left.

Они пошли но я не знаю куда.
They went somewhere; I don't know where.
Она надевает кофту.
She puts on any kind of sweater.
Он позавтракал с Раисой.
He at one time had breakfast with Raisa.
Она говорит с , которого я знаю.
She's talking to someone I know
Они убежали.
For some reason they ran away.
Я успею.
I'll manage somehow (or other).
Он пропал в Сибири.
He vanished somewhere (or other) in Siberia.
Он купил билеты в Большой.
He bought some kind of tickets to the Bolshoi.
Он выбрал из наших друзей.
He chose someone from among our friends.
Она любит из Хэрродса.
She loves anything from Harrod's.

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.

Back to interrogative pronouns Up to the homepage Up to the top of this page Up to the Interactive Reference Grammar's table of contents Forward and sideward to the negative pronouns
© 1996 Robert Beard