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?
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]
3Oh 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. Aug 23, 2010 at 17:50
6I 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, 2010 at 18:20
@JSBձոգչ "Can anybody/somebody explain the principles of democracy?" What about this sentence?– SudhirNov 24, 2012 at 17:34
@Sudhir, why don't you post that as a separate question?– JSBձոգչNov 26, 2012 at 2:17
I think that one way to look at it is that "anybody" is an abstract concept whereas "somebody" is more concrete - it refers to an actual person. So the reason that "I saw somebody in the hall" works is that you saw an actual real thing, and the reason that "I saw anybody in the hall." doesn't work is that you're claiming to have seen an absract concept. Jul 21, 2016 at 9:06
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.
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.
1"Special somebody" sounds OK to me. A quick Google search reveals a few uses of the phrase. Aug 23, 2010 at 20:05
1Yes, 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.– analytikAug 24, 2010 at 12:53
2I 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. Jun 1, 2012 at 11:15
(not a native speaker)* I agree. I'd tend to use "somebody" in contexts when the person is not known to me/speaker, while "someone" is favored in general contexts or when mentioning the person understood as "someone" is for some reason avoided. Examples provided on the Cambridge Dictionary website here dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/pronouns/… seem to support this point: I know someone who gives piano lessons. (a specific person) Somebody has obviously made a mistake. (general, we don’t know who).– user97589Jun 8, 2017 at 5:31
I can't explain precisely why, but I'd probably exclusively use "someone" when I'm implying something like "I know who but I won't tell (because it doesn't matter or it won't do much to the listener if I said the name). Ngram for "someone told me, somebody told me", for example, might be indicating this tendency, I'm not sure books.google.com/ngrams/…– user97589Jun 8, 2017 at 5:42
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).
The variations ending in "-body" tend to sound less formal than "-one." Which one you use would depend on your audience.
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.
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.
Anybody and anyone are completely synonymous and there's really nothing more to tell.
That describes my intuition as well, but only a close examination of the relevant corpora would provide the evidence one way or another. Feb 27, 2012 at 12:40
Ferris Bueller's Day Off, or watch this YouTube video.