- Everyone should have their own space.
- Someone left their book on the table.
- Did everyone bring their lunch?
- Every teacher should respect their students.
Purists would say the above sentences are wrong. There’s a singular subject and a plural adjective (their).
Many writers use this construction to avoid sexism. People used to write, “Everyone should have his own space.” Grammatically correct – and clearly sexist, implying that the male adjective is the only one worth bothering about.
Dictionary.com makes some interesting comments:
Such use (their) is not a recent development, nor is it a mark of ignorance. Shakespeare, Swift, Shelley, Scott, and Dickens, as well as many other English and American writers, have used they and its forms to refer to singular antecedents. Already widespread in the language (though still rejected as ungrammatical by some), this use of they, their, and them is increasing in all but the most conservatively edited American English. This increased use is at least partly impelled by the desire to avoid the sexist implications of he as a pronoun of general reference.
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