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Indefinite pronouns
quickinfo

Afrikaans has a core group of indefinite pronouns that does not come directly from other word classes (Ponelis 1979:101): iemand somebody, iets something, niemand nodoby, and niks nothing (1a-d).

Example 1

a. Iemand het so iets genoem, ja.
somebody have.AUX so something mention.PST yes
Somebody said something like that, yes.
VivA-KPO, adapted
b. Vra raad as jy oor iets twyfel.
ask advice if you.SG about something doubt
Ask for advice if you have doubts about something.
VivA-KPO
c. Maar dit weet niemand ook nie.
but it know nobody also PTCL.NEG
But this nobody knows as well.
VivA-KPO
d. Werkers betaal niks aan die Fonds nie.
workers pay nothing to the Fund PTCL.NEG
Workers pay nothing to the Fund.
VivA-KPO

Other lexical items that are regularly used as indefinite pronouns include almal everybody, alles everything, elkeen each one, and forms that merged with enig any such as enigiemand anybody, enigiets anything, and enigeen anyone (2a-f).

Example 2

a. Almal moet uiteindelik ophou werk.
everybody must.AUX.MOD eventually stop work
Everybody have to stop working eventually.
VivA-KPO
b. Alles was perfek!
everything be.PRT perfect
Everything was perfect!
VivA-KPO
c. Oor elkeen van die sektore is 'n sektor-analise gedoen.
about each.one of the sectors be.AUX.PASS.PST a sector.analysis do.PASS
About each of the sectors a sector analysis was done.
VivA-KPO, adapted
d. Het enigiemand die ongeval sien gebeur?
have.AUX anybody the accident see happen
Did anybody see the accident happen?
VivA-KPO, adapted
e. Hou jou oë oop vir enigiets buitengewoon.
keep your.SG eyes open for anyting extraordinary
Keep your eyes open for anything out of the ordinary.
VivA-KPO
f. Nou kan dit enigeen wees.
now can.AUX.MOD it anyone be
Now it can be anyone.
VivA-KPO
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[+]Indefinite pronouns

Indefiniteness is an obvious inherent characteristic of indefinite pronouns. However, De Stadler (1989:340) points out that definiteness and indefiniteness are relative, and that definiteness should be viewed as a non-discrete semantic value. The class of indefinite pronouns is furthermore open, with items from other classes such as nouns, indefinite numerals, and W-words being used as indefinite pronouns (Ponelis 1979:100).

The core group of indefinite pronouns in Afrikaans consists of four members: iemand somebody, iets something, niemand nobody, and niks nothing. The first two are the positive variants and the other to the negative variants; iemand and niemand are further used for reference to people and iets and niks for reference to inanimate objects (3a-d). The diminutive form ietsie something small is also used ocasionally (3e).

Example 3

a. Maak seker dat daar altyd iemand by die vuur is terwyl dit brand.
make sure that.COMP there always somebody at the fire be.PRS while it burn
Ensure that there is always somebody at the fire while it burns.
VivA-KPO
b. Iets maak nog nie vir my sin nie.
something make still not for me sense PTCL.NEG
Something still does not make sense to me.
VivA-KPO
c. Die ligte is aan maar niemand is by die huis nie.
the lights be.PRS on but nobody be.PRS at the house PTCL.NEG
The lights are one but nobody is home.
VivA-KPO
d. Ek wil niks na 'n sedeles laat klink nie.
I want.to.AUX.MOD nothing like a moral.lesson let sound PTCL.NEG
I want nothing to sound like a moral lesson.
VivA-KPO
e. Kan jy dalk so ietsie meer omtrent hulle vertel?
can.AUX.MOD you.SG maybe so something.DIM more about them tell
Can you maybe tell something more about them?
VivA-KPO

The next group of indefinite pronouns originated from being quantifiers that took on independent pronoun functions (Ponelis 1993:222): almal everybody (4a) and alles everything (4b). A shortened variant of alles is als (4c). Another member of this group is elkeen each one (4d), with an archaic equivalent iedereen each one (4e) that is rarely used anymore. The quantifier elke each is still used productively, while iedere each is rarely used apart from fixed expressions such as (4f).

Example 4

a. Die geriewe is almal geleë in asemrowende omgewings.
the facilities be.PRS everyone located in breathtaking surroundings
The Facilities are all located in breathtaking surroundings.
VivA-KPO
b. Ek voel so sleg oor alles.
I feel so bad about everything
I feel so bad about everything.
VivA-KPO
c. Maar, dit is als ou nuus en vervelig.
but it be.PRS everything old news and boring
But, it is all old news and boring.
VivA-KPO
d. Dit beteken ook dat elkeen 'n blyplek van sy eie sal hê waarop hy of sy trots kan wees.
it mean also that.COMP everyone a stay.place of his own will.AUX.MOD have.INF REL.on he or she proud can.AUX.MOD be.INF
It also means that everyone gets a place of their own to stay, that he or she can be proud of.
VivA-KPO
e. Dit sal iedereen tog seker vir goed wil nalaat!
it will.AUX.MOD each.one then maybe for good want leave
Each one would surely want to leave it behind for good.
VivA-KPO
f. Ek dink ieder en elk van ons was al deur diep waters en tye.
I think each and each of us be.PRT already through deep waters and times
I think each and every one of us has been through deep waters and difficult times.
VivA-KPO

Another group of indefinite pronouns consists of the quantifier enige any that merges with the pronouns iemand and iets and the numeral een one to form enigiemand anybody (5a), enigiets anything (5b) and enigeen anyone (5c).

Example 5

a. Moenie met enigiemand geselsies aanknoop nie.
must.not.AUX.MOD with anybody chat.DIM.PL enter.into PTCL.NEG
Don't enter into any chats with anybody.
VivA-KPO
b. As jy onseker is oor enigiets in die tender, vra!
if you.SG uncertain be.PRS about anything in the tender ask
If you are uncertain about anything in the tender, ask!
VivA-KPO, adapted
c. 'n Wenner in enigeen se boek!
a winner in anyone PTCL.GEN book
A winner in anyone's book!
VivA-KPO
[+]Premodified indefinite pronouns

Indefinite pronouns can take premodifiers in certain circumstances. Adjectives (6a-g) and phrases (6h) are sometimtes used.

Example 6

a. So iets sal nie geduld word nie.
such something will.AUX.MOD not tolerate.PASS be.AUX.PASS.PRS PTCL.NEG
Such a thing will not be tolerated.
VivA-KPO
b. Ek het nie so iemand in die stad gekry nie.
I have.AUX not such somebody in the city find.PST PTCL.NEG
I did not find somebody like that in the city.
VivA-KPO
c. Daar was byna niemand op straat nie.
there be.PRT almost nobody on street PTCL.NEG
There was almost nobody on the street.
VivA-KPO
d. Maar daar is absoluut niks van die aard nie.
but there be.PRS absolutely nothing of the nature PTCL.NEG
But there is absolutely nothing of the kind.
VivA-KPO
e. Hulle het my byna alles geleer wat ek weet.
they have.AUX me almost everything teach.PST that.REL I know
They taught me almost everything I know.
VivA-KPO
f. En omtrent almal het al deur jou gesien.
and about everybody have.AUX through you.SG see.PST
And just about everybody has seen through you.
VivA-KPO
g. Want amper elkeen kan so 'n storie van toeval vertel.
because almost everyone can.AUX.MOD such a story of coincidence tell
Because almost everyone can tell such as story of coincidence.
VivA-KPO
h. Ek koop altyd een of ander iets daar voor ek uitstap.
I buy always one or other something there before I out.walk
I always buy some or other thing before I walk out of there.
VivA-KPO

Furthermore, determiners such as indefinite articles (7a-b) and demonstratives (7c-f) are also used.

Example 7

a. Ek vergaan tot 'n volkome niks.
I perish to a complete nothing
I perish into complete nothingness.
VivA-KPO
b. Nadat almal 'n ietsie geëet het, bekyk ons die taak wat vir ons voorlê.
after everybody a something.DIM eat.PST have.AUX view we the task that.REL for us ahead.lie
After everybody ate a little something, we viewed that taks lying ahead of us.
VivA-KPO
c. Skielik het daardie iemand 'n naam.
suddenly have.PRS that somebody a name
Suddenly that somebody has a name.
VivA-KPO
d. Na drie jaar is daardie iets tussen hulle steeds daar.
after three year be.PRS that something between them still there
After three years that something between them is still there.
VivA-KPO
e. Hierdie iemand kan jy wees!
this somebody can.AUX.MOD you.SG be.INF
This somebody can be you!
VivA-KPO
f. Daar was net hierdie iets wat ontbreek het.
there be.PST just this something that.REL missing have.AUX
There was just this something still missing.
VivA-KPO
[+]Postmodified indefinite pronouns

Indefinite pronouns are commonly found with PPs as postmodifiers, illustrated in (8).

Example 8

a. Iemand by my werk het 'n video van die naweek gemaak.
somebody at my work have.AUX a video of the weekend make.PST
Somebody from work make a video of the weekend.
VivA-KPO
b. Ek kan met eerlikheid sê ek ken niemand met so 'n passie vir 'n museum nie.
I can.AUX.MOD with honesty say I know nobody with such a passion for a museum PTCL.NEG
I can honestly say I know nobody with such a passion for a museum.
VivA-KPO
c. Niks in die natuur is absoluut staties nie.
nothing in the nature be.PRS absolutely static PTCL.NEG
Nothing in nature is absolutely static.
VivA-KPO
d. In elke verhaal is iets met vlerke.
in every tale be.PRS something with wings
In every tale there is something with wings.
VivA-KPO
e. Ek het haar lief met alles in my.
I have her love with everything in me
I love her with everything in me.
VivA-KPO, adapted
f. Later voel jy deel van die stuk, tussen almal op die verhoog.
later feel you.SG part of the piece between everybody on the stage
Later you feel part of the piece, between everybody on the stage.
VivA-KPO

Furthermore, indefinite pronouns also regularly take relative clauses as postmodifiers, as can be seen in (9).

Example 9

a. Gaan praat met iemand wat logies dink en objektief kan luister.
go talk with somebody that.REL logically think and objectively can.AUX.MOD listen
Go and talk with somebody that thinks logically and can listen objectively.
VivA-KPO
b. Maar daar is niemand wat omdraai nie.
but there be.PRS nobody that.REL around.turn PTCL.NEG
But there is nobody that turns around.
VivA-KPO
c. Is daar iets wat ek kan doen om haar te help?
be.PRS there something that.REL I can.AUX.MOD do for.COMP her PTCL.INF help.INF
Is there something that I can do to help her?
VivA-KPO
d. Niks wat ek gedoen het, was ooit reg nie.
nothing that.REL I do.PST have.AUX be.PRT ever right PTCL.NEG
Nothing that I did was every right.
VivA-KPO
e. Luister na alles wat ek vir julle gesê het.
listen to everything that.REL I for you.PL say.PST have.AUX
Listen to everything that I said to you.
VivA-KPO
f. Dankie aan almal wat moeite gedoen het om te kom.
thanks to everybody that.REL trouble do.PST have.AUX for.COMP PTCL.INF come.INF
Thanks to everybody who went to the trouble of coming.
VivA-KPO, adapted

Finally, indefinite pronouns also take adjectives as postmodifiers. There is an -s suffix for the adjective that is relic from the Middle Dutch partitive (Ponelis 1993:221), although it is not always added, as in (10a). Examples with the -s are (10b-d). An adjective frequently used with indefinite pronouns is anders else (10e-i), and because it ends with an -s the issue of whether or not to use the partitive suffix is eliminated.

Example 10

a. Sê elke dag iets mooi vir jou pa, ma, boeties en sussies.
say every day something beautiful to your dad mom brother.DIM.PL and sister.DIM.PL
Say something beautiful to your dad, mom, brothers and sisters every day.
VivA-KPO
b. Maak dié jaar heerlike tuisgemaakte Kersgeskenke vir iemand spesiaals!
make this year delicious home.made Christmas.gifts for somebody special
Make lovely home made Christmas gifts for somebody special this year!
VivA-KPO
c. Klimaatsverandering is niks nuuts nie; dit het al voorheen gebeur.
climate.change be.PRS nothing new PTCL.NEG it have.AUX before happen
Climate change is nothing new; it has happened before.
VivA-KPO
d. 'n Moulose Polar Fleece, net reg vir daardie dae wat ons nie te warm wil aantrek nie, maar tog nog steeds ietsie warms om die lyf wil hê.
a sleeveless polar fleece just right for those days that.REL we not too warm want dress PTCL.NEG but then yet still something.DIM warm around the body want.to.AUX.MOD have.INF
A sleeveless Polar Fleece, just right for those days that we don't want to dress too warmly, but still want something warm around the body.
VivA-KPO
e. U moet dus bewys dat iemand anders nalatig was.
you.HON must.AUX.MOD then prove that.COMP somebody else negligent be.PRT
You have to prove that somebody else was negligent, then.
VivA-KPO
f. Dit is ek en niemand anders nie!
it be.PRS I and nobody else PTCL.NEG
It is me and nobody else!
VivA-KPO
g. Ek het feitlik in niks anders belanggestel nie.
I have.AUX almost in nothing else interest.PST PTCL.NEG
I was interested in almost nothing else.
VivA-KPO
h. Letterkunde is iets anders as geskiedenis.
literature be.PRS something else than history
Literature is something different than history.
VivA-KPO
i. Almal bespiegel oor almal anders.
everybody speculate about everybody else
Everybody speculates about everybody else.
VivA-KPO
[+]Indefinite pronouns as quantifiers

It was already mentioned that certain indefinite pronouns developed from quantifiers. These words are still used as quantifiers, almal (11a), alles (11b) and elkeen (11c). However, the core indefinite pronouns are also used as quantifiers. In (11d), niks is used instead of the quantifier geen none, and in (11e), iets is used in the context where bietjie little would otherwise be used.

Example 11

.AUX.MOD
a. Jy sal nie na almal van hulle kan kyk nie.
you.SG will.AUX.MOD not to everybody of them can watch PTCL.NEG
You will not be able to watch every one of them.
VivA-KPO
b. Moses se rol in dit alles is eintlik weglaatbaar.
Moses PTCL.GEN role in it everything be.PRS actually negligible
Moses's role in it all is actually negligible.
VivA-KPO
c. Ewe flink word vir ons elkeen 'n stywe dop geskink.
equally quickly be.AUX.PASS.PRS for use each.one a stiff drink pour.PASS
Equally quicly a drink is poured for each of us.
VivA-KPO
d. En die vervreemding neem toe omdat jy byna niks mense sien nie.
and the alienation take up because you.SG almost nothing people see PTCL.NEG
And the alienation increases because you see almost no people.
VivA-KPO
e. Julene se ma het iets oor die R100 000 gekry.
Julene PTCL.GEN mom have.AUX something over the R100 000 receive.PST
Juelen's mom received something over R100 000.
VivA-KPO
References:
  • De Stadler, L.G1989Afrikaanse semantiek.Southern Boekuitgewers
  • Ponelis, F1993The development of Afrikaans.ReeksP. Lang
  • Ponelis, F1993The development of Afrikaans.ReeksP. Lang
  • Ponelis, Frits A1979Afrikaanse sintaksisPretoriaJ.L. van Schaik
  • Ponelis, Frits A1979Afrikaanse sintaksisPretoriaJ.L. van Schaik
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