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  #1  
Old April 21, 2011, 02:49 PM
Luna Azul Luna Azul is offline
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Question English grammar question for YOU the experts :-)

I just replied to a post here and I used a sentence that left me thinking and not very happy.

I've seen this kind of usage so often that I'm getting used to it and I'm not even sure it's correct.

Here's my sentence:

"Every person who starts studying a language when they are not children anymore, translates from their native language."

Of course my problem is the bad use of the pronouns. I'm talking about "every person".. but then I'm saying "they are.." and then I'm using "translates" -in the singular because the subject is "every" person- and finally I end up saying "their" native language. A mess

I know somehow this is not right, but it seems to me the tendency is to use "they" and "their" in cases when the gender of the person is not clear and apparently no one wants to "offend" women by saying "he" or "his".

I need your insight on this because it's driving me crazy.

Please???

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  #2  
Old April 21, 2011, 02:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Luna Azul View Post
I just replied to a post here and I used a sentence that left me thinking and not very happy.

I've seen this kind of usage so often that I'm getting used to it and I'm not even sure it's correct.

Here's my sentence:

"Every person who starts studying a language when they are not children anymore, translates from their native language."

Of course my problem is the bad use of the pronouns. I'm talking about "every person".. but then I'm saying "they are.." and then I'm using "translates" -in the singular because the subject is "every" person- and finally I end up saying "their" native language. A mess

I know somehow this is not right, but it seems to me the tendency is to use "they" and "their" in cases when the gender of the person is not clear and apparently no one wants to "offend" women by saying "he" or "his".

I need your insight on this because it's driving me crazy.

Please???

Contemporary English tries to be non-gender specific in these cases, and we use their instead of his or her. I was tought that it was OK to use their and they this way, and I see it written and spoken that way often. If you substitute every person with everybody your sentence would read better.
I would word the sentence in the following way:
Every adult who studies a foreign language translates from their native
language.
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Old April 21, 2011, 03:06 PM
Luna Azul Luna Azul is offline
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Originally Posted by poli View Post
Contemporary English tries to be non-gender specific in these cases, and we use their instead of his or her. I was tought that it was OK to use their and they this way, and I see it written and spoken that way often. If you substitute every person with everybody your sentence would read better.
I would word the sentence in the following way:
Every adult who studies a foreign language translates from their native
language.
Well, even though your sentence seems to be much better than mine, it follows the same pattern. You use "their" talking about "every adult".

Thanks a lot, that's what I wanted to know.

Would you say my sentence is terribly incorrect? Maybe I used more words than I needed, but I have that tendency when I'm explaining something. However, I think the sentence is understandable, right?

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Old April 21, 2011, 04:07 PM
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Before the social changes in the US starting in the '60s, the "normal" way of writing was to use "he" for generic singular reference: "Every person who starts studying a language when he is not a child anymore..."

The way that you wrote it is very common in casual writing today, but some people object to indiscriminantly mixing singular and plural reference in order to avoid the appearance of using sexist language. Recasting your sentence to use only plural reference and use "they/their/them" is a common and effective way to resolve the conflict. Another common solution is to use "he or she", "his or her", and "him or her" consistently; however, many people find the constant repetition of double references to be clumsy. Some people advocate using "their", and "them" as ungendered substitutes for objects and possessives, but many people still object on the grounds that "their" and "them" feel plural.

Last edited by wrholt; April 21, 2011 at 04:11 PM.
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Old April 21, 2011, 08:46 PM
Luna Azul Luna Azul is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wrholt View Post
Before the social changes in the US starting in the '60s, the "normal" way of writing was to use "he" for generic singular reference: "Every person who starts studying a language when he is not a child anymore..."

The way that you wrote it is very common in casual writing today, but some people object to indiscriminantly mixing singular and plural reference in order to avoid the appearance of using sexist language. Recasting your sentence to use only plural reference and use "they/their/them" is a common and effective way to resolve the conflict. Another common solution is to use "he or she", "his or her", and "him or her" consistently; however, many people find the constant repetition of double references to be clumsy. Some people advocate using "their", and "them" as ungendered substitutes for objects and possessives, but many people still object on the grounds that "their" and "them" feel plural.
Thank you very much wrholt

It makes me very happy to know that was right, what you're saying is exactly what I thought but I wanted an educated native speaker to confirm it.

It still sounds very strange to me even though I use it, so I wanted to make sure I wasn't making a terrible mistake.

I find it a little silly, we still use the masculine form in Spanish and as far as I know, no one has said anything against it. I, as a female, don't get offended in the least by something like that.

Oh well..

Thanks a lot again..
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Old April 21, 2011, 10:00 PM
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Don't worry about your English. You write better than most native speakers. About your sample sentence: there is a comma there that's not needed, and "people when they are not children anymore" is an unusual
and indirect way of describing an adult. It's not wrong; I confess that I am a person who is not a child anymore.
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Old April 21, 2011, 10:32 PM
Luna Azul Luna Azul is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by poli View Post
Don't worry about your English. You write better than most native speakers. About your sample sentence: there is a comma there that's not needed, and "people when they are not children anymore"* is an unusual and indirect way of describing an adult. It's not wrong; I confess that I am a person who is not a child anymore.
*Political correctness . I'm pretty bad at punctuation in English. I stopped worrying about it a long time ago..

Thanks a lot!
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Old April 22, 2011, 05:07 AM
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I just want to agree with wrholt and poli on this.

For a while, all my papers/homework had to use "he or she" as the pronoun (this was 20 years ago). Then in high school, we were taught to mix "he" and "she" evenly throughout the paper. However, in today's writing, I see "their" and "they" used almost always.

Remove that incorrect comma and your sentence in fine.
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Old April 22, 2011, 12:42 PM
Luna Azul Luna Azul is offline
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Originally Posted by Awaken View Post
I just want to agree with wrholt and poli on this.

For a while, all my papers/homework had to use "he or she" as the pronoun (this was 20 years ago). Then in high school, we were taught to mix "he" and "she" evenly throughout the paper. However, in today's writing, I see "their" and "they" used almost always.

Remove that incorrect comma and your sentence in fine.
Yes, of course. The comma. You never write a comma between the subject and the verb. That was silly, I'm not going to say it's a typo, but I did it without thinking. Thanks a lot!!!
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Old April 22, 2011, 02:10 PM
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If the English-language wikipedia article about "singular they" is reliable, it appears that "singular they" has been around for quite a while, competing with generic 'he' and other methods of generic reference.
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