What makes Russian indefinite pronouns?

What makes Russian indefinite pronouns?
01 February 2019

The question about indefinite pronouns is definitely considered to be one of the most threatened topics of Russian grammar. Once you have started learning Russian, you may have already encountered this issue. But why are indefinite pronouns so difficult to understand? Indefinite pronouns are used to refer to indefinite or unknown people, things, qualities or quantities. They express the concepts of the English pronouns beginning with some- and any-. In Russian grammar we can divide indefinite pronouns in 3 groups depending on what or who they refer to. Let’s take a look at them!

Group: Indefinite pronouns ending in -нибудь and -либо

These indefinite pronouns refer to things and people whose existence is uncertain. This means that the speaker has no definitive object in mind, just a hypothetical one. In other words, they express uncertainty (doesn’t matter which one/who/where etc.). Here are some examples:

  • Ты ел что-нибудь сегодня утром? (Did you eat anything in the morning?)

Explanation: It doesn’t matter what did you eat in the morning (sandwich, scrambled eggs or milk with muesli etc.). I just want to know whether you ate something in the morning or not.

  • Давайте пойдём куда-нибудь завтра вечером! (Let’s go somewhere tomorrow evening!)

Explanation: It doesn’t matter where to go (cinema, club, restaurant etc.). I just want to go out somewhere to relax and hang out with friends, so it is not important which opportunity we will choose (neutrality).

  • Ты когда-либо видел что-нибудь подобное? (Have you ever  seen a thing like that?)

Explanation: What is the difference between нибудь and либо? On one hand, while нибудь refers to one object in a group, либо refers to any of them. On the other hand, the usage of -либо is more characteristic of written than of spoken language. But what do they have in common? Both of them express uncertainty.

Group: Pronouns ending in -то and starting with кое-

These pronouns imply that the referred object is an existing person, thing or fact, but it’s not named. Using -то, we can’t really name the object as we are not familiar with it (for example, we have forgotten it, we haven’t heard it clear in the phone etc.). Using кое-, we probably can name the object, but we don’t do it for some reason. For example:

  • Тебе кто-то звонил сегодня утром. (Somebody called you today morning.)

Explanation: The phone was ringing, and I answered. The person who phoned wanted to speak with you, but I said that you are not home right now. You arrived home in the evening and I said to you: “somebody called you today morning” (I don’t remember his/her name).

  • Где он живёт? – Где-то в Сибири. (Where does he live? – Somewhere in Siberia.)

Explanation: I don’t know where he lives exactly (in which city or village). The only thing I know is that he lives somewhere in Siberia.

  • Я тебе коечто купила. (I have bought something for you).

Explanation: Imagine that you say this to somebody with a mysterious smile on your face. This is a common type of using кое, when the speaker knows something that you don’t, but he/she doesn’t want to tell you (because he/she wants to trick you, tease you or make you curious). In this case, you have bought something for your friend, and you say: I have bought something for you, but it’s a surprise. You will see it later!

  • Хочешь пойти в кино со мной? – Я не могу, у меня ещё кое-какие дела. (Would you like to come to the movies with me? – I cannot go, I have something to do.)

Explanation: This is another type of using кое-, when you probably can name the object, but you don’t do it for some reason. In this case, you don’t want to tell your friend what exactly you have to do (or because it is not important, or you don’t want your friend to know about it).

  • Он убрал комнату? – Да, он убрал комнату кое-как… (Has he cleaned the room? – Yes, he has cleaned the room somehow…)

Explanation: The last type of using коеis when somebody has conducted something inaccurately. In this case, he has cleaned his room, but he did not do a good job. The most of the shelves are still dusty, there is rubbish on the floor, so he did not do an accurate job.

Group: Pronouns некто, нечто, некоторый и т. д.

The prefix не– is never separated from the pronoun it’s attached to. This prefix adds the meaning of “unknown” or “unspecified” to the pronoun.

  • Некоторые детали мне непонятны. (Some details are not clear to me.)

Explanation: We use this form when we would like to refer just to some things from the group of many. In this case, there are many details, but some of them are not clear to me.

Hope this summary helped you figure out one of the most threatened topics of Russian grammar, so keep your learning going! Let us know what other grammar peculiarities you would like us to cover next!


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