Ahhh, pronouns. We should all be thankful for these glorious words. They keep us from repeating the same name a million times in our conversations and writing. I mean, who wants to say “Becca” every single time I’m referred to in a sentence?
“Becca is working at a publishing company. Becca says she really enjoys editing. When I asked Becca the other day which part of her job was favored the most, Becca said, ‘I love reading the articles.’”
Do you see how monotonous that can be? Enter pronouns. These beauties give variety to the sentences in your dialogue and articles.
“Becca is working at a publishing company. She says she really enjoys editing. When I asked her the other day which part of her job was favored the most, she said, ‘I love reading articles.’”
Doesn’t that read so much more smoothly?
Here’s the kick, though. We have become so comfortable with mixing the singular and plural pronouns, most likely because it requires a tad bit more talking or typing. I often find “person,” “someone,” “everyone,” “everybody,” and so on paired with “them,” “their,” “they,” etc. And let me tell you that it is incorrect.
Sure, it might sound okay to you when a person says, “If you love someone, tell them.”
It also sounds okay to me to take a $100,000 Jaguar off the lot and out for a spin.
But neither should actually occur. They’re both no-nos.
Let’s look at the correct ways of saying the above statement.
“If you love someone [singular], tell him [singular].”
“If you love someone [singular], tell her [singular].”
Or you can cover both genders so as not to exclude the “someone” potentially being a male or a female.
“If you love someone [singular], tell him or her [general but singular].”
But what if it’s more than one person? That’s a fantastic question.
“If you love them [plural], tell them [plural].” This is meant for more than a single person. In other words, you can’t talk about a “someone” for a whole paragraph and then conclude by referring to that “someone” as a “them.” It’s still one soul.
And if it’s an inanimate object? Take a look!
“My bottle [singular] of water is missing its [singular possessive] cap.” ✔
“All of the cabinets [plural] are missing their [plural] knobs.” ✔
“Everything [singular] gets their [plural possessive] own container.” ✘
“Everything gets its own container.” ✔
Here are a few more examples of incorrect statements that include singular mixed with plural pronouns in a sentence:
“I found a person’s [singular possessive] dog running loose through the park, but I caught it and returned it to them [plural].” ✘
“I found a person’s dog running loose through the park, but I caught it and returned it to him.” ✔
“Everybody [singular] wants to make something of themselves [plural].” ✘
“Everybody wants to make something of him or herself.” ✔
Note that “everybody” is a grouping of individuals (which is why it’s still singular) and that you could also say “himself or herself” in this case.
“No one [singular] wants to see their [plural] loved ones get sick.” ✘
“No one [singular] wants to see her [singular] loved ones get sick.” ✔
“I talked to a person [singular] on the phone today; they [plural] said they [plural] would just leave their [plural] name and number for you to call back.” ✘
“I talked to a person on the phone today; he said he would just leave his name and number for you to call back.” ✔
If correct statements such as these drive you absolutely bonkers, here is what I suggest: Rewrite your sentences, friend.
“Everyone [singular] has his or her [singular] umbrella at the ready” could just as easily be written as “Everyone has an umbrella at the ready.” Both are correct, but the latter takes less time, energy, and agitated growls.
Next time you find yourself getting mixed up, remember that singular pronouns have the answer within them, literally. Someone, somebody, something all possess the word “one,” body,” or “thing.” These are single items/entities. One man, one body, one thing. This can help you determine whether to use “him/her” or even “its.”
If all else fails, don’t lose hope. Simply think of a creative way to write the sentence differently. This allows you to test your skills and breaks you free from any singular/plural pronoun hangups.
Featured Image by Kim Gorga