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Singular noun/pronoun and verb

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Singular noun/pronoun and verb

Postby mamawsandy » Fri Dec 23, 2005 12:16 pm

One of my pet peeves is using a singular noun/promoun with a plural verb.
Someone needs his backside whacked. (Correct)
Someone needs their backside whacked (incorrect)
I see these mistakes in the most educated writing. Just stop and think if the noun/pronoun is singular or plural.
Would you expound on this, master grammarian?
mamawsandy :wink:
I need a spell-checker on this site!!!
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Postby Brazilian dude » Sat Dec 24, 2005 10:37 am

Among so many other things (which would take me forever to write), Merriam-Webster' Concise Dictionary of English Usage says the following:

The examples here of the "great ones" from Chaucer to the present are not lapses. They are uses following a normal pattern in English that was established four centuries before the 18th-century grammarians inventend the solecism. The plural pronoun is one solution devised by native speakers of English to a grammatical problem inherent in that language - and it is by no means the worst solution.


Chaucer's example is:

And whose fyndeth hym out of swich
blame,
They wol come up...
- Chaucer, "The Pardoner's Prologue," ca.1395 (in Jespersen)


Other examples:

And every one to rest themselvs betake - Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece, 1594

... if ye from your hearts fogive not every one his borother their trespasses - Matthew 18:35 (AV), 1611

Nobody here seems to look into an Author, ancient or moedern, if they can avoid it - Lord Byron, letter, 12. Nov. 1805

... it is too hideous for anyone in their senses to buy - W. H. Auden, Encounter, February 1955

... the attachment and sympathy of someone approaching their own death - Aland Morrehead, The Blue Nile, 1962

Each designs to get sole possession of the treasure, buth they only suceed in killing one another - Sir Paul Harvey, The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 4th ed., 1967


Personally I find no problem with your "incorrect" version. English lacks a more "neutral" (and ambiguous) third person singular pronoun, as Latin has suus, sua, suum, which all Romance languages have inherited.

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Postby M. Henri Day » Sun Dec 25, 2005 2:16 pm

The problem being that awkward «his or her», which, given social developments, no longer seems resolvable with a simple «his». Still, I don't know but what I prefer even a ungainly «his or her» to a «their» when the singular reflexive is desired....

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Postby Apoclima » Sun Dec 25, 2005 7:04 pm

"There are more things in speech and dialect than are dreamt of in your grammar, dear mamawsandy!"

I am a "they", "them", "their" person myself.

I call it the "false plural of ambiguity", Tim, I think, shortened it to "fpoa". One must realize that to avoid hypercorrection, a language must change in a certain direction. Attempts to stop this flow result in outright ugliness. Once the "correct" subconscious analysis is lost there is no "repairing" it, even if we try. That is why we hear things like:

"Whom should I say is calling?"

"You should come with Bill and I?"

Just speak in your own prestigious dialect, and leave everybody else alone. It makes for a more colorful natural world where ugly artificial hypercorrections need not be!

A gentle suggestion,

Apo
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Postby KatyBr » Sun Dec 25, 2005 7:19 pm

Hypercorrections are my pet peeve, Mamawsandy perhaps this isn't the site for you, we make the occasional error and can still sleep at night.
and we can live with yours.

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Postby Stargzer » Sun Dec 25, 2005 11:39 pm

See the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Problem for the entry for their and the Usage Notes for the entries for he and they.
Regards//Larry

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Postby Apoclima » Mon Dec 26, 2005 1:34 am

Truly, Larry, you have found some Gems here. Thanks!

And you, too, BD!

And I just thank Henri 'cause he's so explicit about the problem!

I believe in naturalness before formality (while leaving a place for formality), and, also, naturalness before logic; afterall, language is only a quasi-logical system. (Alot more flower than fruit.)

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Postby Flaminius » Mon Dec 26, 2005 1:32 pm

Someone is not third person singular in the usual sense. This may be the reason that agreement violation is not checked so severely by native speakers.

In speech, I find myself frequently accepting <they, their them> referent. In writing, however, I have never availed myself to the ease of <him or her>. It depletes, to my mind, seriousness from writing.

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Wow, they have claws

Postby mamawsandy » Sun Jan 08, 2006 11:44 am

OK, u'all. I get it. You are so much more informed than I. I taught English and just know the correct usage. I don't use it when I am speaking, but when writing I try. I just offered my own opinion. You expressed yours. Now, I think I am in the wrong group. I don't like people with claws. They hurt. If I can't use the Harbrace rules of grammar when speaking of the correct usage, then what book do I go by? You seem to have another book of rules.
I do agree that usage in speaking is another thing. But when writing, one should try to use the correct word, unless, of course, the usage is for effect.
Bye you holy scholars.
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Postby KatyBr » Sun Jan 08, 2006 1:07 pm

Huh? where did you get that?

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Postby Apoclima » Sun Jan 08, 2006 5:48 pm

Dear mamawsandy,

Things often sound harsh in the written form, even jokes, and esp. here where we have been through so many topics together and really defined our positions in relationship with one another.

Surely no one meant to hurt your feelings, we just all have set opinions on this topic and so do you.

You are alright with me!

Apo
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Postby Stargzer » Sun Jan 08, 2006 7:43 pm

KatyBr wrote:Huh? where did you get that?

Kt


How quickly they forget!

KatyBr wrote:Hypercorrections are my pet peeve, Mamawsandy perhaps this isn't the site for you, we make the occasional error and can still sleep at night.
and we can live with yours.

Kt


'Sandy, I think perhaps Katy was either having a bad day or at least a bad day of phrasing things.

Don't let any one post (or even several :!: ) drive you away. Your single post generated many responses, which is what the AlphaAgora is all about.

Speaking of pet peeves, one of mine is newscasters, reporters, and others who say "a whole host." Dr. Offutt drilled into us during sophomore year of high school, lo these many years ago, that "host," at least in this sense, is a collective noun, like "crowd." Can one have half a crowd? Of course not! If you divide a crowd in half you have two crowds, not two halves of a crowd!

Yes, sometimes some of us may tend to skewer prescriptivists or others who seem to act as if they are the final word on things, but I sure didn't get that impression of you from your post.

Would you expound on this, master grammarian?
mamawsandy :wink:



You asked, and we replied!
Regards//Larry

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-- Attributed to Richard Henry Lee
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Postby KatyBr » Sun Jan 08, 2006 9:18 pm

[quote]we make the occasional error and can still sleep at night.
and we can live with yours.
It was merely a preamble for this, she made a comment about making errors, I answered...... sigh, what is wrong with reading the whole PARAGRAPH?

SIGH, GOOD GRIEF

kT
I assumed, as a teacher, MS wasn't using hypercorrections.
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Postby gailr » Sun Jan 08, 2006 10:22 pm

Y'all come on back, mamawsandy; you and your input are welcome here.
Don't let them damn yankees get you down! It's just cabin fevermaking them cranky...
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Postby Stargzer » Tue Jan 10, 2006 1:11 am

gailr wrote: . . . cabin fever . . .
-gailr


A classic case of "Be careful what you wish for; you just may get it." (i. e., the beautiful snow) :) Someone once sent me a Quebec version to translate as an exercise. It's buried in an email archive somewhere. :?
Regards//Larry

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