Why are the adjectives always placed after the pronoun "something"? For example: "Something black", "Something else", "Something funny" ... Also are there any other pronouns like this one?

  • Anything, everything, nothing. – Peter Shor Oct 8 '17 at 13:45
  • I'm not sure if there is any answer beside "because that is the way English is", but every some- word works that way (somewhere bad, someone tall) and so do quantifiers (There are two red and three black and a few green) – stangdon Oct 8 '17 at 13:46
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    Afaik the archaic or dialect terms "aught" and "naught" work the same way. "Else" was originally a genitive in Old English, and OE sometimes had other genitives in the same position, e.g. áwuht gódes (= aught of good = anything good) (see "else" in the OED). – rjpond Oct 8 '17 at 14:06

All the compounds with some/any/every/no+thing/one/body work this way. These are historically noun phrases, with thing/one/body acting as the nominal and some/any/every/no acting as the quantifier-determiner. If the compound is treated as two words, an adjectival would naturally be placed between the determiner and the nominal:

some black thing
any honest body ... note, by the way, that body in this generic sense of "person" survives today almost exclusively in dialect

But when you re-analyze some+thing as a single word you lock the adjective out of that position, so it has to be placed after the nominal:

something black
anybody honest

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  • -where and -place compounds work this way too. – rjpond Oct 8 '17 at 13:55
  • @rjpond Hmm ... I think postpositive adjectives with those are motivated by analogy. The -where compounds aren't reversible any more: where is no longer used as a nominal, as Shakespeare did with some other where. And it seems to me that closing up place with its quantifier is very rare: it's usually written as two words, and the adjective can fall either before or after the nominal. – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 8 '17 at 14:06
  • Specifically regarding something, there are such phrases as e.g. sixty something, John something or a little something. Following the same paradigm, maybe grey-bluish something makes sense? – Michael Login Oct 8 '17 at 14:12
  • @MvLog That's a very good point. I'd argue that in those cases we're dealing with a slightly different use of something to make the indefiniteness focal rather than incidental: not merely an omission of definiteness (I may know what it is and just not be defining it) but a 'positive absence' of definiteness (I definitely don't know what it is). – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 8 '17 at 14:21
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    @MvLog In "Would you care for a little something"?, "something" is a noun formed by conversion from the compound determinative. – BillJ Oct 8 '17 at 14:48

Traditional grammar analyses "something" as a pronoun, but a more modern approach takes it as a compound determinative.

There is a constraint on the position of certain modifiers called 'restrictors' that can be used to modify such compounds. The restrictors (adjectives or certain nominals) cannot occur in pre-head position because of the fused nature of the construction and are forced into post-head position, with only "else" allowed between them and the head:

“nothing (else) significant”

"everything gold"

"somewhere beautiful”

"nowhere special"

"somebody rich"

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