Indefinite pronouns are words used to refer to things or ideas, and people in a general sense. There is no need to specify who or what they are. For example: Alguien llamó esta tarde. (Someone called this afternoon.) or ¿Me trajiste algo? (Did you bring me something?). Some of them have a masculine, feminine, singular, and plural form, for example uno, una (one,) unos, unas (some); and some of them are invariable, like algo (something) and alguien (someone). Ready to find out more?
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How to use indefinite pronouns in Spanish?
Indefinite pronouns can replace nouns that have been previously mentioned or recovered from context. For example:
Did students come to class?
–Sí, llegaron algunos.
Yes, some came.
As you can see algunos refer to the previously mentioned estudiantes. These pronouns are particularly useful when answering questions.
Furthermore, there is a small group of indefinite pronouns that don’t necessarily have to refer to someone or something previously mentioned. For example:
Someone knocked on the door.
In this case, the person to whom we are referring is unknown, so we use an indefinite pronoun.
This group includes: alguien (someone), nadie (no one), quienquiera (whoever), algo (something), and nada (nothing).
Some indefinite words also function as adjectives. How can we tell the difference?
The indefinite adjectives will be followed by a noun, whereas the indefinite pronoun will not.
Adjective → Algunas personas tienen acceso al edificio.
Some people have access to the building.
Pronoun → Algunos hablaron con el gerente.
Some indefinite pronouns can be followed by “de” to single out a subset of people or items out of a group.
Find a complete list of indefinite pronouns followed by preposition “de” here.
Indefinite pronouns can refer to people, things, and quantities. We’ll begin with the pronouns that can refer to both people and things and then we’ll discuss the ones that can only be used with things/objects, and finally the ones that are exclusive for people.
Pronouns that refer to both people and things
Most Spanish indefinite pronouns can refer to both people and things. Let’s see which ones they are.
‘Uno,’ ‘una,’ ‘unos,’ ‘unas’
- The singular forms uno and una are used to refer to a singular noun and mean “(any) one.”
Una de mis hijas quiere ser cantante.
One of my daughters wants to be a singer.
It can also be used impersonally when referring to oneself or “we” as a group:
Uno tiene que ser entusiasta en esta vida.
One needs to be enthusiastic in this life.
⤷TIP A woman referring to herself can use “una,” but if she refers to the group as a whole she could use “uno.”
- The plural forms, unos and unas, translate as “some” and they refer to an indefinite number of people or objects.
What type of shoes do you want?
Any with shoelaces.
What cookies are you looking for?
Any with a chocolate cover.
Una, unos, unas can also be indefinite articles in Spanish. In order to make the distinction with the pronouns, it’s important to highlight that articles are followed by nouns while pronouns replace them.
Unos and unas can be used in reciprocal sentences to mean “one another.” In this case we also need to pair these pronouns with the definite articles los/las, and definite article + otro/a(s) (other).
Se miran los unos a los otros.
They look at one another.
‘Alguno,’ ‘alguna,’ ‘algunos,’ ‘algunas’
These pronouns refer to unknown, not specific objects or people and translate to “one” or “any.” These pronouns need an antecedent in order to know what they refer to.
|Hay muchos museos en esta ciudad. ¿Has visitado alguno?
There are many museums in this city. Have you visited any?
|Aquí muchas personas son muy talentosas . ¿Reconoces algunas?|
Here, many people are talented. Do you recognize any?
Algunos and unos can be interchangeable when used in a phrase with otros (other).
Unos/algunos quieren amor, otros fortuna.
Some want love, others want fortune.
These pronouns are the negative counterparts of uno(s) and alguno(s) and their corresponding feminine forms, and translate as “none.” When they are placed after the verb, they require a double negative.
¿Cuántas paletas quedan?
How many lollipops are left?
–No queda ninguna.
-None are left.
Did you notice in the example above that we used ninguna and not ningunas to answer the question? Even though we’re talking about paletas, a plural noun, when we use the negatives we always use the singular forms: ninguno or ninguna. The plural forms: ningunos, ningunas are rarely used; they can be used if followed by a noun that has only a plural form such as vacaciones (vacations), ganas (desire), or gafas (glasses).
Pedro no tiene ningunas ganas de trabajar hoy.
Pedro has no desire to work today.
Ningún is the adjective form of ninguno; it’s always followed by a masculine singular noun.
Ningún estudiante hizo la tarea.
No student did their homework.
‘Cada uno,’ ‘cada una’
Cada uno/cada una means “each one” and refers to each member of a specific group of people or objects when highlighting the same characteristic or function of each.
El equipo consta de cinco personas. Cada una tiene un asistente.
The team consists of five people. Each one has an assistant.
¿Qué libro prefieres? Cualquiera de ficción.
What book do you prefer? Any of fiction.
Cualquiera puede hacer una vuelta de carro.
Anyone can do a cartwheel.
Cualquier is the adjective form of cualquiera, it’s always followed by a singular noun.
Cualquier miembro/persona tiene acceso al club.
Any member/person has access to the club.
‘Otro,’ ‘otra,’ ‘otros,’ ‘otras’
Otro (another), and its variants, when used as a pronoun means “another one” or “others.” They refer to a noun with the same characteristics as the one it replaces.
Me comí un sándwich. Quiero otro.
I ate a sandwich. I want another one.
Otros can be preceded by a definite article, but never by an indefinite article.
Los otros salieron por la puerta principal.
The others exited through the front door.
⤷TIP Never use “un otro” to mean “another.”
un otro. Give me another
Pronouns that refer only to things
The indefinite pronouns algo (something) and nada (nothing) refer only to things.
Just as in English, algo (something) refers to an unknown specific object or concept.
¿Quieres algo de comer?
Do you want something to eat?
In this example algo is replacing a specific concept, for example un sentimiento (a feeling).
Nada (nothing or anything) is the opposite of algo, and it describes the nonexistence of objects or concepts. When placed after the verb, it requires a double negative.
Nada es imprescindible.
Nothing is indispensable.
No quiero hacer nada.
I don’t want to do anything.
Pronouns that refer only to people
The indefinite pronouns alguien, quienquiera, and nadie can only refer to people.
This pronoun refers to an unknown person and it’s invariable. It’s translated as “someone” or “somebody.”
Alguien está tocando la puerta.
Someone is knocking on the door.
⤷TIP Colloquially the expression ser alguien means “to be someone important.”
Juan quiere ser alguien en las ciencias.
Juan wants to be someone important in the science field.
In questions, it can be used as “anybody.”
¿Conoces a alguien que hable japonés?
Do you know anyone that speaks Japanese?
Quienquiera (who(m)ever) is always used as a pronoun. It’s invariable and refers to an unknown, unspecified person.
I will give a reward to whoever finds my dog.
Nadie (no one, nobody, anybody) describes the nonexistence of people. Just like with nada, when used after the verb, it requires a double negative.
Nadie baila como él.
No one dances like him.
No quiero ver a nadie.
I don’t want to see anybody.
When alguien, quienquiera, and nadie are used as direct objects of the verb, they must be preceded by a-personal.
Busco a alguien que me abra la puerta.
I’m looking for someone to open the door for me.
Want to know more about a-personal? Check out this post on the a-personal!
Finally, there are other pronouns that are used to refer to quantities, for example: Quedan pocos. (There are a few left.), but to learn about those, we’re going to need another post: “What are quantifiers in Spanish?” So stay tuned!
Indefinite pronouns substitute nouns that refer to people or objects in general. Let’s briefly go over the three categories that we covered in this post:
- Most of them can refer to both people and things: uno, una (any), unos, unas (some), alguno, alguna (any), algunos, algunas (some), cada uno (each one), cualquiera (any, anyone), otro, otra (other), otros, otras (others)
- The negative counterpart is ninguno or ninguna (none)
- Algo (something) can only refer to things or concepts
- The negative counterpart is nada (nothing)
- Finally, alguien (someone) and quienquiera (whoever) can only refer to people
- And it’s negative counterpart is nadie (no one)
Ready to take your new knowledge to the next level? Here’s an activity to get you going!