Russian Indefinite Pronouns
Indefinite pronouns are words used to refer to unknown, undetermined or intentionally unspecified beings, objects, properties and quantity. In Russian, this function is performed by several sets of pronouns formed from interrogative/relative pronouns:
- pronouns formed by means of the particle -нибудь: кто-нибудь, что-нибудь, какой-нибудь, чей-нибудь, сколько-нибудь
- pronouns formed by means of the particle -либо: кто-либо, что-либо, какой-либо, чей-либо
- pronouns formed by means of the particle -то: кто-то, что-то, какой-то, чей-то, сколько-то
- pronouns formed by means of the prefix кое-: кое-кто, кое-что, кое-какой, кое-чей
- pronouns некто, нечто, and некоторый, некий, несколько
Pronouns ending in -нибудь and -либо
These pronouns, also called non-specific indefinite pronouns, are used to refer to beings and objects whose existence is uncertain. Using these pronouns, the speaker has no definite referent in mind, but, hypothetically, such a referent may exist or present.
Кто-либо смотрел этот фильм? - Has anybody seen this film?
Pronouns ending in -нибудь mean no matter what/who/which and usually refer to an unspecified object or one of unspecified objects. This meaning allows to refer to persons and thing that do not exist yet, that is why these pronouns are frequently used in interrogative sentences, as well as with verbs in the future tense, in the subjunctive and imperative modes.
Возьми что-нибудь поесть. - Take something to eat. (imperative mood)
Она приготовит что-нибудь на обед. - She will make something for lunch. (future tense)
The meaning of pronouns ending in -либо is very close to those ending in -нибудь, but it is more general, i.e. pronouns ending in -либо may refer not to only one, but to any of unspecified objects, compare:
спросить кого-либо - to ask anyone (any of unknown people)
The declension of these pronouns is the same as the declension of the corresponding interrogative/relative pronouns. The suffixes -нибудь and -либо that are added at the end of these words are invariable.
Pronouns with prefixe кое- and suffix -то
These pronouns, also called specific indefinite pronouns, are used to refer to existing beings and objects whose identity is not specified for some reasons. Using these pronouns, the speaker has a paticular referent in mind, but he can not or does not want to identify the referent.
Кое-кто звонил. - Someone called. (the speaker most likely knows the name of that person, but intentionally does not mention it)
Pronouns ending in -то indicate an object which is unknown both for the speaker and the listener:
Вам звонила какая-то женщина. - Some woman rang you.
Pronouns with the prefixe кое- (colloqial form кой-) are used when the speaker does not wish to specify the identity of the referent.
Pronouns некто, нечто
These pronouns correspond to English "an unknown person/a stranger/someone" and "an unknown thing/something", respectively, and are most often used as grammatical subjects. The pronoun нечто may sometimes be used in the accusative as the direct object of a verb. Некто and нечто are usually accompanied by modifiers (a word or a phrase). In general, these pronouns are typical of the bookish style.
Он видел нечто необычное. - He saw something unusual.
Pronouns некоторый, некий, несколько
Pronouns некоторый, некий some, unspecified and несколько several, a number of are used when the speaker does not wish to provide exact information for some reasons.