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Are there any subtle differences between "somebody" and "someone", or can they be used completely interchangeably? Similarly, can you imagine a situation in which you would prefer "anybody" to "anyone" or vice versa?

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These two words are synonymous; you can use either interchangeably. They might have very slightly different connotations depending on the context in which they are used, but I can't think of an example that couldn't be as easily attributed to my own imagination. –  Ed Guiness Feb 27 '12 at 10:49
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Prior to the name "Beuller", you must use "anyone". Otherwise, you can use either. –  David Schwartz Feb 27 '12 at 11:13
    
@David: Could you please explain your "Beuller" exception? –  Gnubie Feb 27 '12 at 12:54
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@Gnubie: Either Google "anyone bueller", watch Ferris Bueller's Day Off, or watch this YouTube video. –  David Schwartz Feb 28 '12 at 11:37
    
@DavidSchwartz: Nice, except that those lines don't actually come together in the movie. –  Nate Eldredge Jun 2 '12 at 5:21

8 Answers 8

There is little or no difference between the -one and -body variants.

However, there is a major difference between somebody and anybody--anybody is one of the "negative valency" words in English, which is required when the main verb of the sentence is negated.

I haven't seen anybody. [Correct]

! I haven't seen somebody. [Incorrect]

Conversely, in sentences in which the main verb is affirmative (not negated), the preferred pronoun should be somebody and not anybody.

I saw somebody in the hall. [Correct]

! I saw anybody in the hall. [Incorrect]

In subject position, you should prefer somebody when a particular person is implied, although you don't know who it is. Anybody can be used when you have no particular person in mind.

Somebody called me on the phone. [Correct]

! Anybody called me on the phone. [Incorrect]

? Somebody can come to the party. [Not exactly incorrect, but very strange--it implies that there is a single, unnamed person that can come to the party.]

Anybody can come to the party. [Correct]

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Oh well, thanks for the effort, but that's a rather huge footnote following the first paragraph. I'd limit it to "However, there is a major difference between some- and any-." to keep the discussion on topic. –  RegDwigнt Aug 23 '10 at 17:50
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I would note also that questions have negative polarity, so you use the any- variants in questions too: “Have you seen anybody?”; “Did you see anybody in the hall?”; “Did anybody call you on the phone?” –  nohat Aug 23 '10 at 18:20
    
@JSBձոգչ "Can anybody/somebody explain the principles of democracy?" What about this sentence? –  Sudhir Nov 24 '12 at 17:34
    
@Sudhir, why don't you post that as a separate question? –  JSBձոգչ Nov 26 '12 at 2:17

While M-W doesn't provide any hints on difference between the two, my understanding is that someone is used more for hinting at a particular person, for sarcasm or otherwise.

E.g. I don't think I've ever heard the phrase "special somebody", as opposed to "special someone". Somebody sounds more generic.

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"Special somebody" sounds OK to me. A quick Google search reveals a few uses of the phrase. –  Steve Melnikoff Aug 23 '10 at 20:05
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Yes, but still it's 43k to 2.4M in favor of "someone". And of course, not everyone is a native speaker (neither am I), but I don't claim "special somebody" is wrong. I believe language is too elastic to faithfully and exactly track minor meaning differences like this in dictionaries, but I think it's safe to say that "special someone" is a more popular phrase than "special somebody", as Google result count shows. –  analytik Aug 24 '10 at 12:53
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I believe that "special someone" may be more felicitous just for prosodic reasons - "special someone" is two trochees, while "special somebody" doesn't follow a regular rhythm. –  Mark Beadles Jun 1 '12 at 11:15

Here's what Garner's Modern American Usage says:

The two terms are interchangeable, so euphony governs the choice in any given context. In practice, anyone appears in print about three times as often as anybody.

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The variations ending in "-body" tend to sound less formal than "-one." Which one you use would depend on your audience.

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In the New Oxford American Dictionary, both the words are used to mean person of importance or authority (a small-time lawyer keen to be someone; I'd like to be somebody; nobodies who want to become somebodies); in definition of somebody, it's reported that it means some person or someone.

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Anybody and anyone are completely synonymous and there's really nothing more to tell.

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That describes my intuition as well, but only a close examination of the relevant corpora would provide the evidence one way or another. –  Barrie England Feb 27 '12 at 12:40

I think nowadays they're perfect synonyms. Trying to find a difference would be like trying to find an inner meaning to some weird movie which the producer made just for fun.

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Here's what Michael Swan says on this matter in his book, Practical English Usage (Swan 2005, OUP):

"There is no significant difference between somebody and someone, anybody and anyone, everybody and everyone or nobody and no one. The -one forms are more common in writing; the -body forms are more frequent in speech in British English" [emphasis mine - Alex B.] (p. 548).

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