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A pro-form is a type of function word or expression that stands in for (expresses the same content as) another word, phrase, clause or sentence where the meaning is recoverable from the context. They are used either to avoid repetitive expressions or in quantification (limiting the variables of a proposition).

Pro-forms are divided into several categories, according to which part of speech they substitute:

  • A pronoun substitutes a noun or a noun phrase , with or without a determiner: it, this.
  • A pro-adjective substitutes an adjective or a phrase that functions as an adjective: so as in "It is less so than we had expected."
  • A pro-adverb substitutes an adverb or a phrase that functions as an adverb: how or this way.
  • A pro-verb substitutes a verb or a verb phrase: do.
  • A pro-sentence substitutes an entire sentence or subsentence: Yes or (some have argued) that as in "That is true."

An interrogative pro-form is a pro-form that denotes the (unknown) item in question and may itself fall into any of the above categories.

One of the most salient features of many modern Indo-European languages is that relative pro-forms and interrogative pro-forms, as well as demonstrative pro-forms in some languages, have identical forms. Consider the two different functions of who in "Who's the criminal who did this?" and "Adam is the criminal who did this".

Most other language families do not have this ambiguity and neither do several ancient Indo-European languages. For example, both Latin and Ancient Greek distinguish the relative pro-forms from the interrogative pro-forms.

Table of correlatives

L. L. Zamenhof, the inventor of Esperanto, called a table of systematic interrogative, demonstrative, and quantifier pro-forms and determiners in a language a table of correlatives. The table of correlatives for English follows.

Table of correlatives
interrogative demonstrative quantifier
proximal distal existential elective universal negative alternative-positive
determiner which
what
this (sg.)
these (pl.)
that (sg.)
those (pl.)
some any
whichever
whichsoever
every
each
all
no another
pronoun human who
whom
this (one) (sg.)
these (ones) (pl.)
that (one) (sg.)
those (ones) (pl.)
someone
somebody
anyone
anybody
whoever
whomever
whosoever
whomsoever
everyone
everybody
all
no one
nobody
another
someone else
somebody else
nonhuman what this (one) (sg.)
these (ones) (pl.)
that (one) (sg.)
those (ones) (pl.)
something anything
whatever
whatsoever
everything
all
nothing something else
out of two which this one (sg.)
these (ones) (pl.)
that one (sg.)
those (ones) (pl.)
one either
whichever
whichsoever
both neither
out of many some
one
any
whichever
whichsoever
each
all
none
pro-adverb location where here there somewhere anywhere
wherever
wheresoever
everywhere nowhere elsewhere
source whence
wherefrom
hence thence
thencefrom
  whenceever
whencesoever
  nowhence
goal whither
whereto
whereinto
whereunto
hither thither somewhither anywhither
whithersoever
  nowhither
time when now then sometime anytime
whenever
whensoever
always
everywhen
never
manner how
whereby
thus
hereby
thereby somehow anyhow
however
howsoever
  noway
noways
nowise
nohow (col.)
otherwise
reason why
wherefore
  therefore        

Some languages may have more categories. See demonstrative.

Note that some categories are regular and some are not. They may be regular or irregular also depending on languages. The following chart shows comparison between English, French (irregular) and Japanese (regular):

  interrogative quantifier
existential negative
human who
qui
dare
someone
quelqu'un
dareka
no one
personne
daremo
nonhuman what
que
nani
something
quelque chose
nanika
nothing
rien
nanimo
location where

doko
somewhere
quelque part
dokoka
nowhere
nulle part
dokomo

(Note that "daremo", "nanimo" and "dokomo" are universal quantifiers with positive verbs. )

Some languages don't distinguish interrogative and indefinite pro-forms. In Mandarin, "Shéi yǒu wèntí?" means either "Who has a question?" or "Does anyone have a question?" , depending on context.

See also

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