We discussed a few guidelines on using pronouns in an earlier post. Here are a few more.
4. Pronouns have to agree in person. If we use the first person (I, me, my, myself), we cannot suddenly shift to the second person (you, your, yourself) or the third person (he, she, they, it); otherwise, we’d confuse the reader.
When a person comes to class, he or she should have his or her homework ready.
AVOID: When a person comes to class, you should have your homework ready.
If any homeowner needs new parking stickers, he or she must apply with the Administration office.
AVOID: If any homeowner needs new parking stickers, you must apply with the Administration office.
5. Refer to collective nouns using singular or plural pronouns, depending on whether the noun is used in a singular or plural sense. Just be consistent.
The group does not understand its purpose.
AVOID: The group do not understand their purpose.
Keep a collective noun singular if you refer to it as a group.
One-half of the faculty is retiring this month.
The Supreme Court decides as a collegial body.
Congress needs to issue fewer laws.
Management has noted an increase in employee absences.
Note: The management acts as one unit. It is possible, however, that a collective noun will use a plural verb if we refer to the individual units within the collective noun—that is, the individuals are acting individually. For instance:
The faculty all have doctorates.
After the National Anthem, the panel take their seats. (Note: It would be awkward to say: The panel takes its seat.)
The family disagree among themselves.
Some writers don’t like the sound of collective nouns used in the plural, so they insert some other word so that the collective nouns function as adjectives instead of nouns. In the following examples, the adjectives are highlighted in red, while the nouns are underscored.
The faculty members all have doctorates.
After the National Anthem, the panel members take their seats.
The family members disagree among themselves.
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