I just checked my AOL inbox and found the latest email from Grammarly.com there. I get Grammarly emails often, and they’re always fun to read. (I should mention, though, that I insist that what they’re talking about is usage, not grammar. But shouting at my computer screen doesn’t change anything, so I’ve stopped doing it.)
Today’s email features 10 Commandments of Grammar Lovers – mostly exhortations not to be obnoxious when you think someone has broken a grammar rule.
Here’s what’s really interesting about today’s Commandments: Two of them contain pronoun agreement errors (and another pronoun agreement error showed up in another sentence.)
But maybe there weren’t any pronoun agreement errors. It depends on your point of view.
Here are the sentences I’m talking about:
4. Thou shalt not murder a learner’s passion for grammar by belittling them. (Someone who’s strict about usage would say “belittling him or her.”)
5. Thou shalt not steal another person’s confidence by inappropriately correcting their grammar. (Someone who’s strict about usage would say “correcting his or her grammar.”)
If someone brags about the way they corrected a shopkeeper’s grammatically incorrect sign with a Sharpie or humiliated a public speaker for their poor use of language, stand up to them—don’t side with them. (Someone who’s strict about usage would say “stand up to him or her – don’t side with him or her.”)
Here’s the point I want to make: The rule that you have to use “he or she” with a singular pronoun is in flux. When a grammar website uses them and their with a singular noun – contrary to what English teachers (like me) have been teaching for centuries – that’s a sure sign that people are rejecting the rule invented by Lindley Murray in the 18th century.
One of my recent posts talked about the change we’re witnessing: http://wp.me/pU98s-1L7. Now I have evidence that I’m not the only one who’s noticing the change!