Indefinite Pronouns in German Grammar

Introduction

Indefinite pronouns express something general or unspecific, rather than something concrete. When an indefinite pronoun is used, the subject or object of a sentence is not specifically defined.

Example:
Kannst du etwas für mich tun?Can you do something for me? (general)
(compared with: Kannst du mein Auto waschen?Can you wash my car?)

Some of the indefinite pronouns in German grammar are etwas, nichts, man, jemand, jeder. Learn about indefinite pronouns with Lingolia. Master how and when to use indefinite pronouns in spoken and written German then test yourself in the exercises.

Etwas/Nichts

The pronouns etwas and nichts are not declined – they do not change their form.

Example:
Hast du etwas gehört?Have you heard something?
Nein, ich habe nichts gehört.No, I’ve heard nothing.

Jemand/Jeder

The pronouns jemand, jeder are declined.

Example:
Ich sollte jemanden anrufen, aber ich weiß nicht mehr, wen.I was supposed to call someone, but I can’t remember whom.
Das kann doch jedem mal passieren.That can happen to anyone.

The pronoun jeder must also agree with the noun that it replaces.

Example:
masculine – jeder
feminine – jede
neuter – jedes

Man

The pronoun man is the equivalent of the English generic pronoun one or impersonal you. It becomes einem in the dative, and einen in the accusative. The possessive pronouns and possessive adjectives of man are the same as those of masculine 3rd person singular (er).

Example:
So etwas macht man nicht!One doesn’t/You don’t do something like that! (nominative)
Ihre Stimme geht einem unter die Haut.Her voice gets under ones/your skin. (dative)
Der Stress macht einen krank.Stress makes you sick. (accusative)
Man kann kaum sein eigenes Wort hören.You can hardly hear your own voice. (possessive adjective)

Irgendjemand/Irgendetwas

To strengthen indefinite pronouns, we can insert irgend- before some pronouns, for example: irgendjemand/irgendwer, irgendetwas/irgendwas

Example:
Irgendjemand/Irgendwer wird uns schon helfen.Someone will help us.
Irgendetwas/Irgendwas hat er doch gesagt, oder?He did say something, didn’t he?

Declension Table: Jemand/Jeder/Man

The table provides an overview of the declension of jemand/jeder/man in nominative, accusative and dative.

jemandjederman
masculinefeminineneuter
nominative jemand jeder jede jedes man
accusative jemanden jeden jede jedes einen
dative jemandem jedem jeder jedem einem