December 15 2010

All I want for Christmas is pronouns that agree

by Barbie in Grammar, Pet Peeves

Happy Holidays, readers! We’ve been busy editing dissertations for a number of new clients this semester, so please excuse our absence! During our work, we noticed an ongoing problem with pronoun agreement…and it all starts with Facebook.

See, Facebook apparently can’t recognize gender because we get this notice on a friend’s birthday:

Today is “their” birthday? Unless we’re talking about one of those couples who awkwardly share a Facebook page–and a birthday–this is wrong. It’s his birthday or it’s her birthday, but not their birthday.

Pronoun disagreement problems exist in all kinds of writing. For instance, we’ll notice that a doctoral student uses the subject “the patient” but then refers to the patient using pronouns like “they” and “their.” As always, we encourage the reader to use plural subjects to avoid that awkward “his/her” or “his or her” construction that APA encourages us to eliminate.

So, take time to check your nouns with your pronouns to ensure that your numbers add up.