Friday, February 2, 2007


I was thinking about the exception of phrases like "a number of" and "a variety of" taking singular and plural verbs; and I felt the need to post a question regarding the use of "their."

"Their" is a plural pronoun; but why can't "their" be a singular pronoun, if used consistently in written languagel? I know there are a lot of problems in gender studies with identity; and the use of "their" is ambiguous, in a wonderful way; it allows for a dual or third gender.

Don't you think "their" can be used as single pronoun? Can't the English language make an exception? Really, it's not like we don't make a milliion already. :-)

I don't know. Just a thought.


Pat said...

It's true that we make many exceptions, but the number we allow in written text is much smaller than that allowed in speech.

Anyone remember Cousin It from the Addams Family TV series? Cousin It did not speak English—a recognizable form of it anyway—but was understood by the rest of family nonetheless. Cousin It also had no gender, or perhaps it is more correct to say that its gender was unknown. Yet Cousin It was loved and respected, and the Addams Family would have been the poorer for its absence.

We need the equivalent of Cousin It, I think, not a substitute like their. Until such time as we come up with one, it is better to be grammatically correct when we write or copyedit.

LilyLuvsU said...

I once read an essay proposing that "e" be established as a singular pronoun for both genders. This was suppose to be a much debated issue among scholars. I thought that was a brilliant idea, although I have not heard anything on that issue since.

Pat said...

Everyone says that e loves Christmas.

I like it :)

Ritchie Mae said...

I liked Cousin It. Thing (the hand that walked around) scared me.

Ryan said...

The e and the ems proposed by Spivak have fallen by the wayside in critical debate, and I think for good reason. It would take years of retraining for people to make this tiny lexical shift. In addition, there are stylistic alternatives extant.