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Someone Has Their Pronouns Goofy

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It’s sometimes hard to make sense of whether certain pronouns are singular or plural, so here are some helpful explanations. The indefinite pronouns anyone, anybody, everyone, everybody, someone, somebody, no one, and nobody are always singular. This is sometimes confusing to writers who feel that everyone and everybody (especially) are referring to more than one person. The same is true of either and neither, which are always singular even though they seem to be referring to two things.

The need for pronoun-antecedent agreement can create gender problems. If you were to write, for instance, “A student must see his counselor before the end of the semester” when there are female students involved, nothing but grief will follow. You can pluralize, in this situation, to avoid the problem:

Students must see their counselor before the end of the semester.

Or, you could say:

A student must see his or her counselor  . . . [which to me is a bit unattractive]

Using his and hers repeatedly eventually becomes annoying, however, and the reader becomes more aware of the writer trying to be conscious of good form than he or she is of the matter at hand.

Trying to conform to the above rule can lead to a great deal of nonsense. It’s widely regarded as being correct (or correct enough) to say, “Somebody has put their notebook on the table.” But many people would object its being written that way because somebody is singular and their is plural. There’s a great deal to be said, however, for using the word their as the gender-nonspecific, singular pronoun.

Remember that when we compound a pronoun with something else, we don’t want to change its form. Following this rule carefully often creates something that “doesn’t sound good.” You would write, “This food is for me,” so when someone else becomes involved, don’t write, “This food is for Fred and I.”

Try these:

  • This money is for him and me.
  • This arrangement is between Fred and him.

The best way to figure out if you’ve written it correctly is to take one of the people out and just say, “This money is for him.” If it’s sounds right, it’s right.

 

3 Responses to “Someone Has Their Pronouns Goofy”

  1. Paula Tiberius December 14, 2012 at 8:34 am #

    Oh no – I would have agreed ‘students’ and ‘counselor,’ pluralizing to use ‘counselors’ in that first example. In those instances, should I imagine that there is an ‘each’ in there? It seems so counter-intuitive to me, but I see what you’re saying is that is has to agree with the pronoun, not the subject?

  2. Rusty Gagnon December 16, 2012 at 6:22 pm #

    Please, NEVER write “This food is for Fred and I.” I is definitely the wrong word because it is a subjective pronoun. The correct word would be “me.” I hear such errors all the time: It was for he; Him and I went to the movies; etc. News anchors, soap opera actors, and movie screen dialogue. Drives me buggy as I correct their grammar.

    • cslakin December 16, 2012 at 6:34 pm #

      That’s what is being said above. “Don’t write …” The way to tell whether to use “me” or “I” is simple–just take out the reference to any other people and just say “The food is for me.” Same goes for the example you gave. You would just say, “He went to the movies” (not him went).

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