Pronouns- Subject Verb Agreement
Too frequently, I read sentences containing “them, their, or they” used incorrectly as singular, gender neutral pronouns renaming a noun without specifying gender. The subject verb agreement is incorrect in these cases.
A grammatically correct sentence must have subject verb agreement in number and gender. Using “them, their, or they” to rename a singular noun is incorrect agreement in number. It has become common to use these pronouns to avoid the use of gender specific pronouns such as “he” and “she” in situations with unknown gender.
If the gender of the person being renamed by the pronoun isn’t known, someone might say…
“Tell the person who left their book behind that they should come back and get it.”
Their and they both refer to the person who left the book behind. It is grammatically incorrect to use plural pronouns to rename person because it is a singular noun.
The grammatically correct format would use singular pronouns to rename person.
Tell the person who left his/her book behind that he/she should come back and get it.
The mistake is commonly made in situations like this one in which the gender of the person in question is unknown. Since it might sound a little bit awkward to say he or she in the middle of sentence, restructuring the words could also be an option to consider in order to give a better flow to the entire sentence.
Tell the person who left the book to come back and get it.
This restructure is grammatically correct, and it solves the question of an awkward flow by say he or she in the middle of the sentence. In this particular case with confusion about the person’s gender, simply avoiding the use of number specific pronouns to rename person eliminates the error.
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