Every so often, we all run across one of those odd questions about our English language. You know, like what does the prefix “un” do to a word–intensify or negate? Or is it “sports’ report” or “sport’s report?” Maybe while at the water cooler you’ve asked your coworkers why duck sauce doesn’t have any duck in it.
If you’ve ever parsed words, phrases, or syntax, then The Grammarphobia Blog will be a fun treat for you. The product of Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, who are both journalists, their format is to take questions from readers, do the research, and report back in an entertaining and interesting review of topic.
Q: A friend of mine (and I mean it) insists that “they/them/their” can be used in place of “he/she/him/her,” etc. For instance: “Has anyone lost their pit bull?” This sounds wrong to me. Can you help me persuade my friend that it’s wrong?
A: It sounds wrong to us too, though we’d be more concerned about that lost pit bull than about the questionable grammar.
Followed by a quick review of etymology, rules and usage in modern English. Here’s an excerpt from the answer to the above question.
Granted, “they/them/their” are third-person plural pronouns. But many, many people use them in a singular sense, especially in reference to unspecified or indefinite people (as in “If someone calls, tell them I’m out”).
Furthermore, this usage, while now considered a misusage, has some history on its side. We’ve written about this several times in the past, including in the New York Times Magazine.
It’s a great little blog, updated regularly, and always an interesting, educational, and entertaining read. Check it out, add it to your blog reader, and start learning a little more about your mother tongue.