Monday, March 08, 2004

Pronoun-antecedent agreement errors

Daniel Puckett of the St. Petersburg Times presents some persuasive arguments to use plural pronouns with singular antecedents (for example, "A person cannot choose their birth," and "If no one wants to visit, they shouldn't have to.")

For those of you new to the antecedent game, the rules of grammar hold that singular nouns must get singular pronouns. Of course, this isn't how we talk. The accepted alternatives to using "they" generally include assuming masculinity and going with "he," or using the stilted "he or she." But when we talk, no such distinction is made.

Puckett gives several reasons that this practice is silly, that readers aren't helped by the distinction. He then makes a call to action:
This is an opportunity to reduce the waste: We can stop enforcing a rule that does not enhance communication and that flies in the face of the language as its speakers, both educated and uneducated, actually use it. It's also an opportunity to burnish our image: Every time we enforce a rule that doesn't make any sense, we reduce the chance we'll be listened to while trying to enforce one that does.
It's not fun to be the editor pushing a radical (for us) change, but what Daniel's saying makes sense. I'd prefer the creation of a singular neuter pronoun, but I see that as unlikely.

I doubt I'll be fighting at the forefront of this movement for change. However, I won't fight its acceptance.


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