Make Your Editor Cry: Anybody vs. Anyone vs. Somebody vs. Someone

Make Your Editor Cry:  Anybody vs. Anyone vs. Somebody vs. Someone

All four words—Anybody, Anyone, Somebody, Someone—kind of mean the same thing and the ANY word pair and the SOME word pair can even be used interchangeably most of the time.

Even though they sort of mean the same thing, the ANY pair and SOME pair can be used interchangeably most of the time, all four words can be used interchangeably some of the time, but they cannot always be used interchangeably all the time. They just don’t always work in the same situations.

It’s not really a matter of definition. Webster defines them this way:

anybody—(pronoun) any person: ANYONE
anyone—(pronoun) any person at all
somebody—(pronoun) one or some person of unspecified or indefinite identity
someone—(pronoun) some person: SOMEBODY

So, in this case, Webster isn’t going to lend us tremendous help in understanding the nuances. Therefore, let’s look at each word in more detail with examples. Warning! This may remind you of the old Abbot and Costello “Who’s on First?” shtick.

The ANY pair: Anyone & Anybody

The ANY pair are most often followed by words like can and could.

Anyone is a pronoun that means “any person.” So if you need a person to volunteer, for example, and you don’t especially care who that person is, then you would ask for anyone to volunteer. That specific anyone is not important, because anyone will do.

Anybody is a pronoun that Webster says is interchangeable with anyone and also means “any person.” Depending on which internet source in which you put your confidence, some claim that anyone is quote more formal end quote than anybody, but with the exception of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy constructs (see below) that isn’t really true or substantiated outside of opinion.

The truth is that in almost every case it’s really just a matter of personal choice and style. Ask yourself: Do you prefer three or four syllables in your “any person” pronoun? It could matter, especially in poetry or songwriting. It could also matter if the extra syllable and the “vowel followed by double consonant” sounds of anybody versus the “double syllable double vowel” sounds of anyone affect the flow of the narrative when read aloud.

The SOME pair: Somebody & Someone

The SOME pair are most often followed by words like will and would.

The word somebody is a pronoun that means “some person.” When comparing it with “any person,” “some person” sounds a little bit more specific, and sometimes it is. But somebody is still some person “of unspecified or indefinite identity,” which doesn’t sound very specific by definition. Yet, “a somebody” is a person of some renown, importance, or elevated social standing. If you become an award winning best-selling author, you might just “be somebody” some day, right? That sounds a little bit specific. You’re no longer just anybody your a someone.

And speaking of someone, someone is a pronoun that Webster says is interchangeable with somebody and also means “some person.” So, with the exception of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy constructs (see below), it’s just as specific and equally nonspecific, just as important, and equally not important.

Truthfully, these four pronouns are often interchangeable, but not always. There are a few times when you should go with your choice of “some person” over your choice of “any person.”

Examples:

Correct:

I’d love it if anybody could help me serve this oatmeal.
I’d love it if anyone could help me serve this oatmeal.
I’d love it if somebody would help me serve this oatmeal.
I’d love it if someone would help me serve this oatmeal.
If you pull around to the shop, anybody can take a look at that dent.
If you pull around to the shop, anyone can take a look at that dent.
If you pull around to the shop, somebody will take a look at that dent.
If you pull around to the shop, someone will take a look at that dent.

Incorrect:

If you pull around to the shop, anybody will take a look at that dent.
If you pull around to the shop, anyone will take a look at that dent.

Bottom Line:

Clearly there are times when someone can be anyone, and anybody can be somebody. But there are also times when anyone can try to be a somebody, but not just anybody can be a someone. Got that? Who’s on first?

But No True Scotsman

The specific anyone or anybody or someone or somebody can be important in the logical argument known as the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. It’s called the “no true Scotsman” fallacy because it is an argument from relevance in the form of a logically fallacious syllogism.

Suppose there is some point to be argued. For example, suppose I am actually inclined to care about eating oatmeal for breakfast. It could just as easily be almost anything else, but eating oatmeal is arbitrary enough to make the point so I will “fill-in-the-blank” with eating oatmeal in the following examples. Here goes.

Example:

Speaker A: “You know, Scotsmen don’t eat oatmeal for breakfast
Speaker B: “But I’m a Scotsman, and I eat oatmeal for breakfast.”
Speaker A: “Well, true Scotsman don't eat oatmeal for breakfast.”

The modern take on the “no true Scotsman” fallacy usually goes something like “Anyone (or anybody) who’s anyone (or anybody or somebody or someone) [then “fill-in-the-blank” with something allegedly important that people might do or might care about, like eating oatmeal].”

For whatever reason, in these constructions, the first pronoun is always one of the ANYs. It’s nearly always anyone and less commonly anybody. The second pronoun can vary, but it’s nearly always identical to the first and when it isn’t, it’s almost always somebody. Where anyone is important in this fallacy would go like this.

For example:

Speaker A: “No one eats oatmeal for breakfast.”
Speaker B: “But I’m someone and I eat oatmeal for breakfast.”
Speaker A: “Well, anyone who’s anyone doesn’t eat oatmeal for breakfast.”
OR:        “Well, anyone who’s anybody doesn’t eat oatmeal for breakfast.”
OR:        “Well, anybody who’s anybody doesn’t eat oatmeal for breakfast.”
OR:        “Well, anybody who’s anyone doesn’t eat oatmeal for breakfast.”

In these cases, the emphasis is normally on the second pronoun. “Anyone whose anyone has already read my book.”

More examples:

Correct (though fallacious) in order of commonality:

Anyone who’s anyone eats oatmeal for breakfast.
Anyone who’s anybody eats oatmeal for breakfast.
Anyone who’s somebody eats oatmeal for breakfast.
Anyone who’s someone eats oatmeal for breakfast.

Acceptable though less common (and equally fallacious):

Anybody who’s anybody eats oatmeal for breakfast.
Anybody who’s anyone eats oatmeal for breakfast.
Anybody who’s somebody eats oatmeal for breakfast.
Anybody who’s someone eats oatmeal for breakfast.

Incorrect (you just never see/hear it this way):

Someone who’s anyone eats oatmeal for breakfast.
Someone who’s anybody eats oatmeal for breakfast.
Someone who’s someone eats oatmeal for breakfast.
Someone who’s somebody eats oatmeal for breakfast.
Somebody who’s anyone eats oatmeal for breakfast.
Somebody who’s anybody eats oatmeal for breakfast.
Somebody who’s someone eats oatmeal for breakfast.
Somebody who’s somebody eats oatmeal for breakfast.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What is 2 + 11 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
IMPORTANT! To be able to proceed, you need to solve the following simple math (so we know that you are a human) :-)