by Jan Tallent
As a proofreader, I bring to the table one of my all-time pet peeves that was drummed into my head by all of my English teachers in both grade school and high school AND later in tech school where I got my degree in Computerized Medical Office Technology.
Some of my editing clients prefer I leave it “as is”, so I do, but the article in
Daily Writing Tips , which I am using with their permission, really sums it up for me!
A Person Is Not a “They.” Neither Is an Army.
So you want to be politically correct, you want to be inclusive, and you would never assume that every nurse and every teacher in the world is a “she.” Right?
But sometimes this worthy thought leads us to perform some very clumsy gymnastics. Consider this passage from a guide for a doctor’s front office staff:
Show the patient how to use their medicine.
Does this patient have three heads with three mouths through which to ingest medications? Or maybe the patient is using a medication produced by several Big Pharma companies?
We can see the impulse behind this absurdity: whoever wrote this document didn’t want to suggest that every patient in the practice was a “he.” Or a “she,” unless the doc’ was a gynecologist. But this good intention led to a moment of bad grammar: pronouns need to agree with their nouns.
We have several alternatives that honor our desire for inclusiveness without sliding into the ridiculousness. One obvious strategy is simply to make the noun plural:
Show patients how to use their medicine.
Another is to change the pronoun (his, her, its) to an article (the, a, an):
Show the patient how to use the medicine.
Or, if it works in the context, we can change the singular “medicine” to the plural:
Show the patient how to use medicines.
Each of these approaches allows the writer to make sense without offending anyone’s sensibilities.
Remember: in U.S. English, collective nouns are singular:
Zappit Electric just raised its rates. (Not “their rates”)
An army travels on its stomach. (Not “their stomach”)
The jury returned its verdict. (Not “their verdict”)
Not so in the Queen’s English: Brits see collective nouns as plural (e.g., “The jury returned their verdict”). But when you’re writing for a U.S. publisher, corporation, government agencie, and similar entities, take singular verbs and singular pronouns.
What do you think? Do you use *they* in this way and find that you are happy doing so?
If was editing YOUR work, would you feel I was maybe too nit-picky or would you appreciate the fact that I really CARE how your writings come across to those of us who ARE picky when we are reading?
I would love to hear your comments and opinions!
If your web pages, blog posts, reports, sales pages, books, etc. are not grammar and spelling error free, why not contact me and we can get them all into shape for this brand new year!
Spelling & Grammar Errors Are Costing You Business!
Why not Schedule a Project now?
Jan Tallent is the owner, operator and staff of Tallent Agency Virtual Assistance. Over the past 12 years, Jan Tallent has spent countless hours providing writers and webmasters with free friendly tips on how to correct spelling and grammar errors in their written material.
From the feedback received she decided that since proofreading and editing help was so desperately needed she should build a business around something she enjoys doing, while at the same time providing a valuable service to business owners and writers.