Indefinite Pronouns in Spanish and How to Be Specifically General
Imagine you are having a coffee near the beach in sunny Barcelona and you overhear a girl say the following:
“Tengo bastante. No necesito nada más.” (“I have enough. I do not need anything else.”)
What does she have? What does she not need any more of? It is a mystery!
I bet you would be curious, though.
Such is the power of language. You can be chatting in the middle of hundreds of people and still feel confident that only you and a couple of friends know what you are talking about.
Words can be sneaky things.
They can help us hide someone’s (or something’s) identity. This makes them immensely intriguing.
And, as you will see in this post, Spanish indefinite pronouns make it easy to hide—or maybe show that you do not actually know—what you are talking about.
The Hidden Meanings of Spanish Indefinite Pronouns
Let’s take a moment to analyze the mysterious example from the introduction. The girl said:
Tengo bastante. No necesito nada más. (I have enough. I do not need anything else.)
We have no idea what bastante (enough) and nada (nothing, not anything) stand for. They can literally refer to millions of things!
Money? Maybe. She might have enough money to pay the rent and she does not need anything else to be happy.
Love? Why not! Perhaps she has two children and a loving husband, so she feels so loved she does not need anything else in this world.
Or she might be speaking about something as simple as her coffee: She has enough milk and she does not need anything else. No sugar, no nothing.
Bastante and nada can really mean anything!
These words are pronouns since they can substitute any noun. As you have seen, you might know the noun that they are referring to, or you might not.
More specifically, these types of pronouns—ones that refer to vague or unknown people, objects, animals and thoughts are called indefinite pronouns. The nouns they substitute will not always be defined or specific, so the name kind of makes sense.
But before we start digging too deep, let’s start from the beginning.
If you have studied pronouns before, you might have noticed that almost every pronoun can act as an adjective.
Indefinite words want to hang with the cool kids so they conform to the pattern and act the same way. So if we have indefinite pronouns and indefinite adjectives, how can we distinguish between them?
The best way to answer this question is by taking a look at Spanish indefinite adjectives, first.
A Brief Look at Spanish Indefinite Adjectives
Indefinite adjectives are Spanish adjectives that refer to non-specific nouns.
When I say non-specific nouns, what I mean is that the people, things or animals they are referring to are not specific or not clearly known. Instead of replacing the noun, as a pronoun does, these words modify the nouns they are speaking about.
I know this can be quite a difficult concept to grasp, so let me show you a couple of examples.
Take the Spanish indefinite adjective algún (some, any, one).
As in English, the Spanish algún is used to talk about a person or thing that is not specific. Maybe it is not specific because we do not have the necessary information or maybe because it does not matter, but the fact remains we are not referring to anyone or anything specific.
Have a look at some examples:
¿Algún voluntario? (Any volunteer?)
Necesito comprar algún libro. (I need to buy some book.)
Algún día lo sabrás. (One day you will know.)
In the first example, we are asking a group of people if any of them want to volunteer. We still do not know who that person will be, or even if there will be any. Algún voluntario is hence referring to someone non-specific, still unknown.
In the second example, the speaker needs to buy a book. Maybe he is taking a 10-hour flight and he does not want to get bored. He does not mind which book he is going to read. Any book will do, so algún libro is referring to an unspecified, unknown book.
In the last example, one person is telling another one that they will know or understand something in the future. Neither of them knows exactly when that algún dia will be, so that day is still non-specific and unknown.
As you can see, even though we have a noun, the indefinite adjective tells us that we are talking about any instance of that noun. The noun is yet to be defined. That is why it is called indefinite.
Now that we know what an indefinite adjective is, we can examine how it works.
I have already mentioned that indefinite adjectives refer to nouns. This means they will always precede the noun they are referring to (algún voluntario, algún libro, algún día).
Besides this, both the indefinite adjective and their noun need to agree in gender and number. This should not be a surprise for you if you have studied any Spanish, but here are some examples:
¿Necesitas alguna pista? (Do you need any hint?)
Tienes algunos errores. (You have some mistakes.)
Algunas chicas son muy listas. (Some girls are very smart.)
Apart from algún, alguna, algunos, algunas, there are many other indefinite adjectives. Here are four of the most important ones and some sample sentences for each:
Cada (Each, Every)
Cada is a very special indefinite adjective because it is invariable (it has no feminine and no plural form).
Wait… no plural? How is that? Easy! Just like in English, when you use cada, you are referring to each individual instance of a noun separately, so you will always have that noun in its singular form:
Cada estudiante tiene un libro. (Each student has one book.)
Voy a correr cada mañana. (I go running every morning.)
Cierto/a/os/as (Certain, Specific)
this adjective is a perfect example of what I was talking about at the beginning of this post. In this case, the speaker almost certainly knows what is being referred to (although there are exceptions) but they want to keep it a mystery or, simply put, do not want people to know what they are talking about.
In the first two of the examples below, the speaker knows the noun but does not want to give the information out. In the second two, the speaker does not know the noun being referred to.
Ayer vi a cierta chica… (I saw a certain girl yesterday…)
Te he comprado cierto libro. (I have bought you a certain book.)
Me ha comprado cierto libro. (He has bought me a certain book.)
Va a traer ciertas flores. (She is bringing certain flowers.)
Be careful with this adjective, though. If you use it after the noun, the meaning is different and it is no longer an indefinite adjective. In this case, it will be translated as “sure, accurate, true.” Have a look:
Es una leyenda cierta. (It is a true legend.)
Luchar significaba una muerte cierta. (Fighting meant a sure death.)
Ningún/a/os/as (No, Not any)
Treat these four adjectives as the negative siblings of algún/a/os/as. While the latter meant “some,” ningún and its family are used to refer to the lack of a certain noun. As I have been mentioned, the adjective and the noun should agree in gender and number, so bear this in mind when building sentences.
But there is something else you should know. Spanish native speakers hardly ever use the plural forms ningunos and ningunas. The simplest explanation here is that if there are no people or objects, using a plural makes no sense.
This actually makes things easier for you, because you only have to check for gender and not for number, even when you would use a plural form in English!
Here are some examples:
No tengo ningún hermano. (I do not have any brothers.)
No me hace ninguna gracia. (It is absolutely not funny for me. Lit.: “It does not make me any joke.” )
No queda ningún asiento libre. (There is no free seat left.)
Ninguna chica quiere bailar conmigo. (No girl wants to dance with me.)
Otro/a/os/as (Other, Another)
You may be tempted to add un or una in front of this adjective in order to make it more similar to English. This is incorrect 100% of the times, so remember to use it by itself.
As always, bear in mind the adjective needs to agree with the noun it is modifying:
Quiero otro libro. (I want another book.)
Necesitamos otra manguera. (We need another hose.)
Ha traído los otros cojines. (She has brought the other cushions.)
Estoy hablando de otras personas. (I am talking about other people.)
If you add más after a noun modified by otro/a, then the meaning changes and you will have to translate it as “one more (noun).”
Dame otro libro más. (Give me one more book.)
Necesito otra cuchara más. (I need one more spoon.)
So now you know what an indefinite adjective is.
It is finally time to have a look at the Spanish indefinite pronouns in depth.
13 Indefinite Pronouns in Spanish for “Any” Learners
Indefinite pronouns are very similar to indefinite adjectives and, most of the times, they look exactly the same.
However, remember their big difference: While an indefinite adjective will accompany and modify a noun, indefinite pronouns substitute nouns. This means they will not be modifying any noun nor will they be accompanying it. They function by themselves.
We will still be talking about non-specific or even unidentified people and objects, but now either everybody taking part in the conversation knows the noun being referred to, or the speaker does not want to reveal it at all.
As with the adjectives, the pronouns need to agree in gender (when possible) and in number with the noun they are substituting. Remember this when having a conversation or writing in Spanish.
All in all, indefinite pronouns are used all the time both in Spanish and English in our everyday conversations, so it is time you got to know them more closely.
The following is a list of the 13 most important Spanish indefinite pronouns. I have added translations and examples to each of them so that you see them in action.
1. Algo (Something)
Algo is one of those pronouns that is not gender- or number-specific. Since algo refers to something unknown or unspecified, we cannot ascribe any gender or number to it.
Remember that we can also use algo when we do not want to give away information.
He oído algo raro. (I have heard something strange.)
¿Has comprado algo? (Have you bought something?)
Algo no va bien. (Something is not right.)
2. Alguien (Somebody, Someone)
Similar to algo, alguien also substitutes an unknown or unspecified noun. The difference, however, is that we are talking about people, not objects, this time. The all-singular rule also applies, whether we know the number of people referred to or not.
¿Hay alguien ahí? (Is anyone there?)
Alguien está llamando a la puerta. (There is someone knocking on the door.)
Ya tengo a alguien en mi vida. (I already have somebody in my life.)
3. Alguno/a/os/as (One, Some, Any)
Just as its adjectival counterpart, alguno and its forms can be used to refer to people, things, animals and thoughts/ideas.
The singular forms alguno and alguna are the two mainly used. Many speakers, even when referring to a plural noun, prefer to use the singular form to make things easier. You can use the one you prefer, but for the sake of clarity I will be using the forms our grammar prescribes.
One last thing before giving you some examples: Remember to choose the appropriate form depending on the gender and number of the noun!
“¿Tienes un lápiz?” “Debo tener alguno por aquí.” (“Do you have a pencil?” “I must have one around here.”)
¿Te queda alguna? (Do you have any left?)
Algunos son muy caros. (Some of them are very expensive.)
4. Bastante/s (Enough)
I know this one may be weird for some of you. Enough is enough! Well… not in Spanish!
Bastante is not gender specific, but it certainly is number specific. It normally goes like this: use bastante with singular and uncountable nouns, and use bastantes with plurals. Easy!
¿Tienes bastante dinero? (Do you have enough money?)
No queda bastante. (There is not enough left.)
“¿Tienes amigos?” “Tengo bastantes.” (“Do you have any friends?” “I have enough of them.”)
5. Cualquiera/Cualesquiera (Any, Any One, Anyone)
I love these two words. They are so beautiful yet underrated, especially the plural one.
We use cualquiera and cualesquiera when we are referring to people or objects and we do not care which one or ones will be the “chosen ones.” Some people may call this being lazy or not wanting to make a decision. We Spaniards call it giving others the chance to choose for us.
Imagine you want to buy a book. Any book. You go to a bookstore and ask for a book, and the seller will probably ask:
¿Qué clase de libro? (What kind of book?)
If you do not mind which one you will be getting, you can just say:
Cualquiera me vale. (Any one will do.)
Strange, but not impossible. So remember: if you do not mind which person or object will be chosen, go for cualquiera:
¿Puede cualquiera ser un buen traductor? (Can anyone be a good translator?)
“¿Qué colores quieres?” “Cualesquiera.” (“Which colors do you want?” “I do not mind/Any will do.”)
6. Demasiado/a/os/as (Too Much, Too Many)
Demasiado is specific to gender and number so bear that in mind when using it in a sentence.
Use the singular forms when you are referring to uncountable nouns, and the plural ones when you are referring to countable ones:
Ya tengo demasiado. (I have too much already.)
¿Piensas que he añadido demasiada? (Do you think I have added too much?)
Hay demasiados en esta zona. (There are too many in this zone.)
Para ti nunca hay demasiadas. (There are never too many for you.)
7. Mucho/a/os/as (Much, Many, A Lot)
Mucho is very similar to demasiado in that you will use the singular forms with uncountable nouns and the plural ones with countable nouns. This is one of the most often-used Spanish indefinite pronouns, and a perfect example of what “undetermined quantity” means:
Nos ha sobrado mucho. (We have a lot left.)
“¿Tienes hambre?” “Yo tengo mucha.” (“Are you hungry?” “I am very hungry.” Lit.: “I have hunger.”)
Hay muchos más de lo que pensaba. (There are a lot more than I thought.)
“¿Cuántas amigas tienes?” “Muchas.” (“How many girl friends do you have?” “A lot.”)
8. Nada (Nothing, Not Anything)
Nada is algo’s pessimistic sister. It is very easy to use, but it works differently depending on its place in the sentence.
If you negate a verb with no, you can later on use nada and create a double negative:
No me gusta nada. (I do not like anything.)
No ha traído nada. (He has not brought anything.)
If you negate the verb with nada, then you are not allowed to use no in the sentence:
Nada me gusta. (I like nothing.)
Nada ha traído. (He has brought nothing.)
9. Nadie (No One, Not Anyone)
Similarly to what we had with algo and nada, nadie is alguien’s sister.
Additionally, the two rules regarding negation also apply here. Have a look:
No me gusta nadie. (I do not like anyone.)
Nadie me gusta. (I like no one.)
No ha venido nadie. (No one has come.)
Nadie ha venido. (No one has come.)
10. Ninguno/a/os/as (None, Not Any, No One, Nobody)
Once again we have an example of a negative counterpart to a positive pronoun. In this case, ninguno is alguno’s negation.
As was the case with alguno, Spanish native speakers tend to avoid using the plural forms for the sake of simplification. After all, if we have zero nouns, it does not make sense to use the plural. However, I will use the “more grammatical way” and keep the gender and number agreements.
Negation rules apply here once again:
No queda ninguno. (There is none let.)
Ninguna queda. (None is left.)
No queremos ningunos. (We do not want any.)
“¿Tienes ganas de cantar?” “Ningunas.” (“Do you feel like singing?” “Not at all.”)
11. Otro/a/os/as (Other One, Another One, Some Other)
This one is very easy. Use otro when you want a different instance of the noun referred to. Remember to keep the gender and number agreements:
Dame otro. (Give me another one.)
Pareces otra. (You look like another person/a different person.)
Yo tengo otros. (I have some other.)
As with its adjectival counterpart, you can add más to otro/a to change the meaning to “one more”:
Dame otro más. (Give me one more.)
Quiero otra más. (I want one more.)
12. Poco/a/os/as (Little, A Little, Few, A Few)
Poco should not be difficult to remember if you follow a couple of simple rules. Use it by itself when you mean “little” (poco/a) and “few” (pocos/as):
Tengo poco. (I have little.)
Es muy poca. (That is very little.)
Me quedan pocos. (I have few left.)
Pocas son tan inteligentes. (Few are so intelligent.)
Also, add un/a/os/as accordingly when you mean “a little” (un poco, una poca) and “a few” (unos pocos, unas pocas):
Necesito un poco. (I need a little.)
Dame una poca. (Give me a little.)
Me quedan unos pocos. (I have a few left.)
He comprado unas pocas. (I have bought a few.)
13. Varios/as (A Few, Some, Several)
Finally, we have an example of a Spanish indefinite pronoun that does not exist in the singular form. By nature, varios will always be plural.
There is no specific quantity that varios refers to. This is not surprising due to the fact that it is an indefinite pronoun. However, you will normally know approximately if we are talking about a few or several depending on the context.
Have a look at these examples:
Me quedan varios. (I have a few/some left.)
Tengo varias en la nevera. (I have some in the fridge.)
Hay varias en el universo. (There are several in the universe.)
And that is all from me!
I hope you now feel more confident when having to use an indefinite pronoun or adjective in your Spanish conversations. Bear in mind the key to success is practicing a lot, so take a pen and a piece of paper and start writing some sentences down.
And as always, happy learning!