Is someone a specific person?

I ask this because some people think so as a comment to my second answer to this question(Is there a correct gender-neutral, singular pronoun (“his” versus “her” versus “their”)? ) shows. Notice that the comment was upvoted.

EDIT The comment was now deleted by the commenter, but you can still see my comments to him.

closed as unclear what you're asking by tchrist, Misti, Drew, anongoodnurse, Barmar Feb 8 '15 at 6:36

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Could you give specific examples of the usage you're asking about? Also, which of the answers in that question are you referring to? "second answer" is not useful, because the order of answers changes over time as votes are cast. Use the "Share" link to get a link to the specific answer. – Barmar Feb 4 '15 at 19:21
  • @Barmar "which of the answers in that question are you referring to?" The one answered on Jan 18 at 21:40. The commenter has just deleted his comment, but you can see my replies to him. – ivanhoescott Feb 4 '15 at 20:16
  • @SrJoven I think the context of the comment(now deleted) is clear from the answer for which it was written. – ivanhoescott Feb 4 '15 at 20:47

Someone and somebody (the former is used more in written texts, the latter in spoken language) refers to a specific but indefinite person.

It is important to note that nouns in English are marked as being both definite or indefinite and as being specific or non-specific. Someone works much like a/an when a/an refers to a specific, indefinite noun.


1 I have to see someone about my homework tonight.

the identity of the person is known (specific) but not revealed (indefinite)


2 I have to read a book for my homework tonight.

the identity of the book is known (specific) but not revealed (indefinite)

Note that in English a/an is also used to make a non-specific, indefinite reference:

3 I need to by a new car.

If the speaker does not have a specific car in mind, then the use of a is non-specific and indefinite. Which is analagous to any.

The analogous pronoun here is anyone/anybody.

4 Can anybody give me a ride home tonight?

Anybody refers to a non-specific, indefinite person. The speaker does not have a specific person in mind when asking the question.


5 Can somebody/someone give me a ride home tonight?

Someone is a specific, indefinite person. The speaker believes that there is a specific person who can give them a ride home, even if the identity is unknown (indefinite).

Notice an actual example of this on ELU:

6 Can someone explain why this question was downvoted?

The speaker Michael Hardy is referring to a specific but indefinite person. This usage represents confidence on the part of the speaker that there is a person (specific but indefinite) who can explain.

Had the comment been

7 Can anyone explain why this comment was downvoted

the speaker is referring to a non-specific, indefinite person. The speaker is not sure if there is a (=any) person who can explain this.

Now more uses of someone (somebody), in which all of them refer to specific but indefinite person.

8 Someone's coming over to dinner tonight.

9 I saw somebody kissing Aunt Mae.

10 Someone left their book on the table. Perhaps its Peter's.

11 Somebody can just walk in and take anything they want, couldn't they?

12 There's someone at the door who wants to speak to you.

13 I can hear the fire trucks. Somebody's house must be on fire.

14 Can I have a someone over for dinner?

15 Somebody shot the sheriff.

16 Someone's been sleeping in my bed.


17 I really need to get help from someone.

Again, the speaker is making a specific but indefinite reference. The speaker believes a specific person exists who can help them, but their identity is not known (indefinite).

To recap, consider hearing a noise in a dark alley:

When the speaker asks:

18 Is somebody there?

the speaker is referring to a specific but indefinite person; i.e., the speaker believes that there is a specific person who made the noise, but that specific person's identity is unknown (indefinite).

If the speaker asks:

19 Is anybody there?

the speaker is not sure whether a person made the noise and so makes a non-specific, indefinite reference. The speaker is not referring to a specific person.


"Someone" can indeed be a specific person; it depends on usage. In general, it is done when the specific person is readily identifiable through context, and the use of "someone" is a sort of euphemism. The classic would be the announcement, "There will be no dessert because someone (accompanied by strong emphasis and a meaningful look at the culprit) ate the entire pie I had baked."

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    "Someone was talking about you." Indeed, this refers to a specific (unspecified) person. – SrJoven Feb 4 '15 at 20:39
  • Agreed. I think it'd be worth emphasizing/elaborating that someone might also not be a specific person, and that context will be the determining factor. – Dan Bron Feb 4 '15 at 20:43

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