“Somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me…” starts off the anthemic pop/rock hit from 1999 entitled “All Star” by the band Smash Mouth.
Whether you remember this song from the radio, from the movie “Shrek,” or perhaps even from the end of the movie “Rat Race,” “All Star” tune was ubiquitous at the turn of the millennium. Instead of remembering where you were when you heard this song, you may be able to remember better where you were in the year 2000 when you didn’t hear this song.
Whether or not Smash Mouth’s hit song had a similar effect on you, it certainly begs the question: why did they use “somebody” instead of “someone”? And why didn’t I reference a more recent song like Gotye’s 2011 “Somebody That I Used to Know”? Let’s go there.
To answer the first question, let’s use another song lyric. We’ll go all the way back to 1926 to Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me,” which has been recorded more than 1,800 times. For the record, I have Ella Fitzgerald’s version in my head for this example. The first time you hear the eponymous line “someone to watch over me,” the words are preceded by “There’s a somebody I’m longing to see / I hope that he turns out to be / Someone to watch over me.”
Did you catch that? In the same lyrical sentence, we find both “someone” and “somebody.” Are they interchangeable?
The short answer is “yes.” “Someone” and “somebody” are both pronouns that refer to an unspecified person. Feel free to use either one.
Isn’t that great news in the year 2020? Both are right. No one (or nobody) will judge you for using either word. Interestingly, the one-word versions of these words (somebody and someone) have become increasingly more common over time than their two-word counterparts (some body and some one).
Here comes the big “but.” While these words are both technically interchangeable, the stuffy rules of grammar state that “someone” is more appropriate in buttoned-up, formal situations such as writing a bill that will hopefully someday become a law.
Let me add to this by suggesting that I think “someone” is more intimate and specific than “somebody.” Again, let’s use popular song lyrics to illustrate the point. In the song made famous by Dean Martin, “Everybody Loves Somebody,” although “somebody” is in the title of the song, the song turns intimate when focused in on “someone”: “Everybody loves somebody sometime / And though my dreams were overdue / Your love made it all worth waiting / For someone like you.”
Therefore, not only is “someone” more formal than “somebody,” but I suggest “someone” is also more intimate and specific than “somebody.” Can somebody please back me up on this?
Curtis Honeycutt is a syndicated humor columnist. He is the author of Good Grammar is the Life of the Party: Tips for a Wildly Successful Life. Find more at curtishoneycutt.com.