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Writer's Handbook

Their, His or Her, etc. (Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement)

1. Although usage is changing, indefinite pronouns such as each, everybody, anyone, etc., still generally take singular pronouns in academic writing.

  • Everybody is responsible for his or her own decisions. (not "their own decisions")
  • Anyone who never does homework is in danger of failing his or her classes. (not "their classes")

2. References to "a student," "the reader," etc., also generally take singular pronouns in academic writing.

  • If the guitarist wants to achieve an authentic modal sound on this song, he or she
    should put the guitar in DADGAD tuning. (not "they should")

3. But perhaps the wiser approach, in most cases, is to use plural forms and "they " (or occasionally "we").

  • All people are responsible for their own decisions.
  • We are all responsible for our own decisions.
  • Students who never do homework are in danger of failing all their classes.
  • Guitarists who want to achieve an authentic modal sound on this song should put the guitar in DADGAD tuning.

4. If two items are joined by or, the pronoun following them agrees with the nearer of the two items.

  • Either Tom or Larry will lose his job because of this.

5. If a collective group does something as a unit, use a singular pronoun. If the group members do things separately, use a plural pronoun.

  • The jury will announce its verdict. (unified on the verdict)
  • Because they are not sequestered, the jury members can go to their homes at night. (different home for each member)