they vs their (singular) : Common Errors in English

About they vs their (singular)

Using the plural pronoun to refer to a single person of unspecifiedgender is an old and honorable pattern in English, not a newfangled bitof degeneracy or a politically correct plot to avoid sexism (though it often serves thelatter purpose). People who insist that “Everyone has brought hisown lunch” is the only correct form do not reflect the usage ofcenturies of fine writers. A good general rule is that only when thesingular noun does not specify an individual can it be replacedplausibly with a plural pronoun: “Everybody” is a goodexample. We know that “everybody” is singular because we say“everybody is here,“ not “everybody are here” yetwe tend to think of “everybody” as a group of individuals, sowe usually say “everybody brought their own grievances to thebargaining table.” “Anybody” is treated similarly. However, in manywritten sentences the use of singular “their” and“they” creates an irritating clash even when it passesunnoticed in speech. It is wise to shun this popular pattern in formalwriting. Often expressions can be pluralized to make the“they” or “their” indisputably proper: “All ofthem have brought their own lunches.” “People” can oftenbe substituted for “each.” Americans seldom avail themselvesof the otherwise very handy British “one” to avoid specifyinggender because it sounds to our ears rather pretentious: “One’shound should retrieve only one’s own grouse.” If you decide to try“one,” don’t switch to “they” in mid-sentence:“One has to be careful about how they speak” sounds absurdbecause the word “one” so emphatically calls attention to itssingleness. The British also quite sensibly treat collective bodies likegovernmental units and corporations as plural (“Parliament haveapproved their agenda”) whereas Americans insist on treating themas singular.

they in News

  1. Three oil protesters held, say they scale roof of UK parliament

    By Peter Griffiths LONDON (Reuters) - British police arrested three environmentalists on Thursday after protest organisers said they scaled the roof of parliament during a visit by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in an embarrassing security breach before Britain hosts a G8 summit. Two men and a woman were held on suspicion of trespassing on a protected site minutes before Harper gave a ...
    on June 13, 2013 Source: Reuters via Yahoo! News

  2. They Keys Are Here

    10-Year Treasury Notes: Trade staying below 129.03 keeps pressure on the market – even if the bulls get trade above there they’ll still need 129.13. Downside, the bears need BOTH the yield AND 128.055 ...
    on June 12, 2013 Source: MrTopStep.com via Yahoo! Finance

  3. They've been working on the railroad

    They've been working on the railroad Times Union Copyright 2013 Times Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Published 7:25 pm, Tuesday, June 11, 2013 Culverts have been cleaned out and staging areas completed as transportation officials prepare for the start of construction on $200 million in passenger rail improvement projects ...
    on June 12, 2013 Source: Albany Times Union

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