Can Anyone Hear Me? — Erasing Confusion Over Indefinite Pronouns

I recently shared a handout to help basic English students with indefinite pronouns that refer to people. See my earlier post. It turns out that more practice is needed, or so I discovered after I met with less success than expected during a recent lesson. Some of your students may also have some lingering doubts, so please check out my Indefinite pronouns_additional practice_basic grammar_handout.

At a lesson with my basic English students (see YouTube playlist), I became frustrated with myself when I quickly recognized that glazed look in my students’ faces. Do you know the look I’m talking about? It translates into something like, “You’re really nice and I know you’re tying to explain grammar to me, but you’re confusing me and I’m no longer sure about anything anymore.”

I promised to return with better explanations and more practice. Then I prepared a set of follow-up exercises to have a second go at those pronouns: everyone, anyone, someone, no one, and all their more conversational equivalents with -body.

Part of the problem was identifying the differences in meaning when more than one pronoun could be used in the same basic question: Can anyone hear me? Can someone hear me? Can everyone hear me? How silly of me to try and simplify it at first by saying that we use “anyone” in questions and in the negative! That was misleading. The other pronouns can also appear in those forms. But why and when? For one thing, I needed to explain the concept of making assumptions: Did anyone call? (no assumptions) vs. Did someone call? (possible assumption or expectation).  There’s also an important difference between I didn’t tell anyone and I didn’t tell everyone. (You can still be a snitch in the second case!)

On top of that, I had to do a better job of explaining the rules against using a double negative. We don’t use additional negative words when the verb is already negative. This is true not just in a single clause like “I didn’t see anyone,” but in a complex sentence such as, “I don’t think anyone can help.”

In short, practice might not make perfect, but additional practice will certainly erase more doubts and lead to greater confidence and accuracy! I hope my handout serves this purpose.

Featured photo by StockSnap. Retrieved from

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