He/she/it/they drives/drive me crazy: my last grammar target

I’ve left he/she/it/they to the last of my three-pronged attack on bad grammar because it’s more difficult.

Even so, I have come up with an easy tip: Use “they” when you’re referring to a singular subject if you are referring to a general subject, such as the team, the client or the user, but only if it’s easier for the reader to understand and doesn’t offend any grammar-stickler target readers and especially if it lets you avoid being sexist.

Okay, so it’s not as brief as my earlier tips on contractions and sound-alikes and me, myself and I and that, who, which. But this is trickier. Let me explain.

Most people are fine with this example: “The team won the award because they are so good at customer service.” Although “team” is singular, they know that the term refers to more than one person.

However, this may not be the best solution if you are writing for people who care about grammar. For them, you’re wise to turn “team” into a plural, as in “The team members won because they… ” You could refer to the team as “it” but that would be dehumanizing.

Turning a singular into a plural also lets you side step the awkward “he or she.”

Sadly, sometimes you can’t simply tack on a word like “members” to make the subject plural. For example, “The client sent their best regards.” Let’s assume the client refers to a company, not an individual. “Their” works. Besides, unless I was referring to a specific individual, “sent his (or her) best regards,” would be sexist.

A year ago, I would have balked at writing “the client sends their best regards.” After years of resistance and too many awkward “he or she”s, I’ve slacked off. I was relieved to see in the comments on the recent Copyblogger grammar post that many people agree it’s time to move on.

Like society, language evolves. As long the changes don’t impair our ability to understand each other, it’s all good. Don’t you agree?

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One Response

  1. […] here are the links for the companion posts on me, myself and I as well as that, which and who and snd more pronoun insanity. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)The war on bad grammar: the two biggest, easiest […]

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