I can't come up with a better title so let me just say that I'm sorry for misleading you if this question isn't even close to what you expected.

First of all my observation:

In the three languages that I know (swedish, english and spanish), a construction similar to some + one is used to signify one person.

  • someone = some + one
  • någon = några/något + en
  • alguien = algo + uno (? I'm not really sure if this actually applies to spanish)

I talked to a friend who is Polish and he told me that in the polish language they have a separate word for someone.

Now to my question, which is a twoparter:

1: Could this construction be viewed as strange? With this I mean is it common to go from many (some) to one to construct a word, instead of using lets say something like many+one. I realize that this is a very weird question and I'm sorry but I really am having problems formulating this question. I'll happilly try to respond to any comments or requests for clarification.


Is this a construct unique for latin/germano/european languages (I know very very little about linguistics so feel free to explain it to me like I'm five)?

  • Two things are involved here. One is using the numeral one to represent a human; the other is quantifying that one with an indefinite existential quantifier some/några/algo. Both are not uncommon, and the quantifier construction is straightforward. But in a language with classifiers, things work differently; in Malay, 'someone' is seseorang. Orang is the classifier for humans (tiga orang doktor 'three doctors') and se- is the clitic form for satu 'one'. Seorang means 'one person', but reduplicated seseorang makes it indefinite 'someone/somebody'. – jlawler Dec 12 '13 at 22:27
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    I'm not sure if this is what's misleading you, but some does not have a plural meaning in this case. Some can be a plural indefinite as in some people, but it can also be a singular indefinite as in some person. It doesn't mean "many", in other words. – TKR Dec 12 '13 at 23:11
  • I would analyse some as having neither a singular nor a plural meaning - rather, it's something quantificational. Semantically, it can be analysed as the existential quantifier. some boy arrived means there is an individual x s.t. x is a boy and x arrived, whereas some boys arrived mens there is a group of individuals x s.t. that group of individuals arrived. Check out the SEP entry on generalised quantifiers for more details: plato.stanford.edu/entries/generalized-quantifiers – P Elliott Dec 13 '13 at 11:34
  • One interesting question to ask about English specifically is whether one in someone should be analysed as the (somewhat archaic) gender neutral 3rd person pronoun, e.g. one should never go shopping alone, the numeral one, or anaphoric one, e.g. John bought a book, and Sally bought one too. The fact that someone carries an animacy presupposition suggests that the first option is the correct one, but i have no idea how to make this work semantically. A quantifier shouldn't be able to combine with a pronoun. – P Elliott Dec 13 '13 at 15:13
  • Thai seems to work like Malay, except using word order rather than reduplication: neung khon ‘one person’, but khon neung ‘someone’ (neung = one, khon = people classifier.) ‘Some people’ would be bang khon. Thai ESL learners often make the mistake of giving ‘someone’ a plural referent, so clearly this feature of English is a bit strange to them too! – neubau Dec 14 '13 at 4:17

It's not strange. As for Polish, one could say "ktoś" (kto-ś - who-some), but there's frequent use of "jeden" (one) and "człowiek" (man) in similar contexts. I think it's just a general grammaticalization tendency.


It's not a phenomenon with a single origin; it probably evolved convergently (separate languages developing the same thing). Swedish's close relative, Icelandic, doesn't have this (the word for someone in Icelandic is "einhver", from "einn + hver" = "one + who"), and its even closer relative, Norwegian, has "noen" which comes from an Old Norse adjective meaning "some(one/thing)", so it's not a Scandinavian thing, and German has a unique word, "jemand", that can't be broken down into parts so it's not even a Germanic thing.

  • This is very, very old but Swedish does have a cognate word to noen which is någon. – DisplayName May 9 '15 at 21:25

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