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A few days ago some stranger contacted me and I asked who he was. He replied and said:

Nobody important.

Now, it is clearly for a singular subject. One person can say that. But I am now wondering what is its plural form.

If my friends and I are asked a question concerning who we are, I would like to answer the same as above, i.e., "Nobody important" but now the subject is plural (we). How can I answer that?

In short, if someone asks my friends and me who we are, I would like to say "Nobody important" but that is for singular. What would be the plural?

  1. "We are no-ones important"?
  2. "We are nobodies important"?

In my research, I found three other sentences as well but they sound odd to me.

  1. We are not anyone important
  2. We are no one important
  3. None of us is anyone important.

Do they sound natural? If not, what would be an idiomatic expression for that?

3
  • 2
    reason for replacing "I" by "me": books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – LPH
    Aug 25 '20 at 12:23
  • @LPH Thanks for the correction. I didn't even realize that it was the object
    – Sphinx
    Aug 26 '20 at 12:01
  • @R.Emery this sentence is very similar to my last sentence except that I have used "is" instead of "are". ;-)
    – Sphinx
    Aug 27 '20 at 5:32

10 Answers 10

46

When used as a pronoun, "nobody" does not have a plural form. But the predicate of a sentence does not have to have the same grammatical number as the subject.

It's not uncommon to say things like "we are nobody important"/"we're nobody important" or "they are nobody important"/"they're nobody important". I don't know of a good reason to reject sentences like that.

For example, in the 2017 film Star Wars:The Last Jedi, major character Rey says the following sentence:

They were nobody.

(IMDb Quotes page, Daisy Ridley's delivery of the line on Youtube)

This is a line of dialogue, but I don't believe it comes across as or was intended to sound notably informal or strangely worded. I think it sounds like a natural and idiomatic sentence to most English speakers.

"nobody" only has a plural when it's not being used as a pronoun

Aside from being used as a pronoun, "nobody" can also be used as an ordinary noun with the meaning "an unimportant person", in which case it has the plural "nobodies" meaning "unimportant people". But when "nobody" is used as an ordinary noun, you can't use "important" after it like that. You would say "they are nobodies" or "He's a nobody" to mean "They are unimportant people" or "He is an unimportant person". This is somewhat slangy.

5
  • I think "we're" and "they're" would be more the more common constructions in your examples. It's weird, at least to me, to so conspicuously avoid contractions yet use 'nobody' instead of 'no one' Aug 25 '20 at 21:32
  • 1
    Great content +1 It's weird that "no one" cannot be used a noun, as in "I am a no one" it has to be "I am a nobody".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 28 '20 at 6:58
  • With "nobody" as a noun, can I still use "important" before it? i.e. "They are quite important nobodies, you know"? Aug 28 '20 at 9:43
  • 1
    @quetzalcoatl: Yes, certainly, you could say what you said, or, like, "They are nobodies — but they consider themselves important nobodies." At that point you're outside the realm of "grammar and usage"; you're just crafting (profound-sounding!) noun phrases; nothing prevents "important nobodies" any more than "flightless birds" or "green ideas" or "square basketballs." Aug 28 '20 at 13:24
  • Thank you @Quuxplusone!! Aug 29 '20 at 21:12
23

There is an idiomatic expression that came to mind, when I read the question, which I think works perfectly well, and is grammatical. It is; however, rather informal but it rolls off the tongue

We're just a bunch of nobodies

It's even in a book title about the founders of Wikipedia

How a Bunch of Nobodies
Created the World's
Greatest Encyclopedia

enter image description here

Being a "nobody" implies the person is unimportant, it's understood, there's no need to modify the nobodies with "important". According to the American corpus on Google Ngram, the expression "of nobodies" is more popular, at least in its written form, than "nobody" or "no one important".

enter image description here

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    I'd go so far as to say that this is the best plural version of the phrase, with the closest meaning and tone, and it's also worth pointing out that this is a natural thing to say and is in common usage, because for somebody of whom English is not English is not their first language, this may not be apparent. Aug 26 '20 at 7:54
  • I agree that removing "important" allows the OP to pluralize "nobody," but by stating "there's no need to modify the nobodies with 'important,'" you appear to have skirted answering the OP's question. Using the specific case provided by the OP, "we are nobodies important" is hard to listen to (and read) while "we are nobody important" sounds better (to a western U.S. native). I'll grant that "we are unimportant" is the way I'd say it... but I've been accused of being too formal with my speech. Aug 27 '20 at 8:03
  • @JBH "We are nobody important", which I agree with, is already in herrison's answer. Why would I repeat what they said?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 27 '20 at 8:10
  • I didn't expect you to repeat it. I'm just wondering why you posted a non-answer. "The writer who writes more words than he needs...." Aug 27 '20 at 9:18
  • 1
    Your post shows a documented, relatively well-known idiom that had little to do with the OP's question beyond including a declination of the word "nobody." It was interesting to read, and I'm sure the OP found it interesting, too — but in the end, it didn't address the question, making it a lengthy comment. My initial comment merely pointed out that your post appeared to shed no light on the OP's dilemma. When you asked (from my point of view) why you should answer the question when it had already been answered, I became curious. Aug 28 '20 at 2:55
4

If someone asked us "Who are you people/guys?" it wouldn't sound wrong for me to say "nobody important".
You could also say "we are no one in particular".

0
2

I'll start with your examples:

"We are no-ones important"?
"We are nobodies important"?

These are wrong. The first example could even sound like you are describing yourself as "no-ones", but no-ones who are important (if there was a comma after "no-ones").

We are not anyone important
We are no one important

We and anyone/no one clash here. It sounds like a hive-mind speaking.

None of us is anyone important.

This emphasises that, for each person in the group, it is true of all of them that they are not individually important.

So what else could you say?

I would say:

"We are not important"

or

"We are not important people"

Depending on the emphasis you want, other options include:

"We are not (the )important people" "We are not (the )people who are important"

These options imply that, although we are not important, other people might be (e.g. "We are not the important people, they are".)
Or, depending on how it's stressed, it could be emphasising that although we're not important people, we're instead something else (e.g. "We are not the important people, but we are the rich ones")

"We are unimportant people"
"We are unimportant nobodies"

These options remove that emphasis, by using "unimportant" instead.

Of course, to make it more informal, you can replace "We are" with "We're" in all cases

0
1

In the first group of two possibilities the English is not standard.

Second group of 3 possibilities

In "1" the use of "we" connotes the use of "we" as the representative "we" and carries therefore some ambiguity. "2" seems not very natural and "3" is not idiomatic (ref.).

If instead of "none" "neither" was used, it seems that "3" would be the best choice.

  • Neither of us is anyone important.
3
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    Can't it be just "It's OK; we are not important"
    – Ram Pillai
    Aug 25 '20 at 12:30
  • @RamPillai I don't see why it wouldn't be okay if they were important; it seems to me that to imply that the presence of important people could be a constraint of some sort is not quite the thing to do.
    – LPH
    Aug 25 '20 at 12:34
  • Should agree with you; but what I did was to do away with the problem of pluralizing ...body which is not possible.
    – Ram Pillai
    Aug 25 '20 at 12:38
1

You can get around the problem of the questionable arity of "nobody" by using an alternative phrase like "none of us", which is explicitly singular.

"None of us is important" is probably the most grammatically correct rendering of the idea, but it's not a perfect semantic match to the original sentence(s).

"None of us is anyone important" is a bit better of a semantic match, but it's awkward.

"We each are nobody important" is the best semantic match, but nobody would ever actually say that.

Ultimately though the original sentences were not about none of the people present being important, but instead the fact that it was not important for the second person to know who anyone in the first group of people is. Therefore to match the intent of the original sentences, I would probably say something like "It's not important for you to know the identity of any of us."

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    The best semantic match for "We are nobody important" IMO would be, like, "Our identities are not important [to you right now]," or even "You don't need to know who we are." To me at least, it's a relative (ad-hoc? circumstantial? there's a word on the tip of my tongue here) proposition, not a statement on the actual objective importance of these characters in the world at large. Aug 28 '20 at 13:34
0

One of the difficulties is in identifying whether nobody/ies is being used as a noun or pronoun.

I have two Chambers dictionaries and a Chambers Thesaurus, a Roget's Thesaurus, and a Roget's International Thesaurus, published in 1973, 1992, 1992, 1973, and 1979 respectively, and none of them cite nobody as a pronoun, though they all mention or imply all the meanings we know.

Online, Dictionary.com and the OED has nobody as a noun and pronoun, and the OED even cites it as a complement, though I see little to no difference in the use in the OED between the examples for noun and those for complement.

1
  • If 'nobody' may be replaced by 'nonentity', its the noun usage. Aug 29 '20 at 18:36
-1

"I am not the person that is important."

"I am not the important person ['here']."

"We are not (the) people that are important."

"We are not the important people."

From memory, if that helps.

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    These all sound a little unnatural to a native speaker though - it sounds like you're emphasising the fact that someone else is important, rather than yourself Aug 26 '20 at 7:49
  • @simonalexander2005 Just for the record, if imdb.com or those "open subtitle/caption" sites had a "Search all movie scripts..." function, I would find examples of each variation I listed, from popular American $megablockbuster cinematic films, VERBATIM wording and spelling. (I find life remarkable how to document myself and the content I watch and consume I would have to pay my life savings and maybe that would not be enough as an individual. However I can remember a CEO Press Release in a Search Box with even the most unstandardized search engine for such "deep" quotes I need to remember.) Aug 26 '20 at 8:37
  • 1
    Sure, I'm not saying they're wrong necessarily - just that they have a specific emphasis Aug 26 '20 at 8:42
  • @simonalexander2005 Oh well in that sense, I was going to add: The saying/enunciation of such phrases can often be heated. Italics was the line I saved in my draft for the answer to the question, but did not want to include if not relevant(?). The lines given are often poignant signifiers used to level/deepen a conversation, if I remember the specific moments the lines were used. The words are rarer than other Hollywood phrases, if I might counter about the greater state of language usage as a whole, given Hollywood is a dictionary of extreme calibre and depth to relate to as the final word. Aug 26 '20 at 8:50
-2

"We're no-one important".

"We're" is plural.

"No-one" is not numbered. Who is here? "No-one". That doesn't carry a number. "Nobody" is numbered. "Not one body". I admit it is counter-intuitive.

Alternative answer: "We are not important". (As simonalexander2005 said).

3
  • Fine as a comment, I guess, but you might incur the wrath of a mod or two. Can you explain (briefly, I know time is precious!) why this is the plural equivalent of "I'm nobody important"? Be aware that @herrison's answer also includes the solution “We're nobody important”
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 27 '20 at 9:34
  • Comments, on questions are to ask for more details about the question. Comments on answers are to ask for more details about the answers. I am attempting to answer the question. I dislike when people "answer" in a comment. I've edited my answer to add a bit of detail. The question was for an idiomatic expression. I believe this is it. "We're nobody important" mixes singular (nobody) and plural (we're). Aug 27 '20 at 10:35
  • By the way, mods are only supposed to step in if there is a major dispute. So the bigger question is: Will my answer incur the wrath of users of this site with enough rep to vote to close it? See A theory of moderation for more detail. "Even with active community self-regulation, moderators occasionally need to intervene". I don't expect to be jumped on by moderators, to be honest. Aug 27 '20 at 10:48
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I suggest that Question is much more important than it seems…

Decapitated Soul Posted the most useful response and even that came hardly halfway close.

Before reading all the above I was thinking of Posting that perhaps there should be but sadly there isn't a way of saying that in English.

After reading the above, I'm convinced that's true. English simply does not recognise that concept.

Please consider the I/we, single/plural dichotomy that so often crops up in ELU, EL Learners and other fora. IE, is it OK to use "they" in place of "he or she"?

Again, consider the dropping of medieval "thee, thou, you" for modern "you." Did that dropping help, or hinder precise communication?

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