Our pals in the United States are celebrating National Grammar Day on March 4th. My personal affinity for using words and punctuation correctly has already been documented on this blog, so I am going to pick up my banner for punctiliousness and focus on one point. (One of yourdictionary.com’s top 5 most common grammatical errors.)
His, Her, Their
In the name of fairness, who hasn’t made this mistake?
“Anyone who wants to pick up their tickets in advance should call to make arrangements.”
Anyone is a single subject. Their (not there or they’re – a whole other set of mistakes) is a plural form of the possessive pronoun.
The correction for this problem is to use a singular possessive pronoun: “his or her.” In rare cases, the writer may actually be speaking to all women or all men, and then can simply use “his” or “her.” Using just one or the other, however, has fallen out of favor (in English – other languages are happy to default to the masculine).
But “his or her” seems clunky and disruptive to the sentence! Absolutely true. This error is, I would venture, a contemporary one; in the 1950s, nobody would have thought twice about assigning the masculine in this situation. Contemporary politeness and inclusion brings us all down!
His or Her? His? Her?
Once we’ve eliminated “their” from the list of possibilities, what’s left is probably awkward at best, or inaccurate at worst.
What’s a grammarian to do?
Rework the sentence! Change the subject of the sentence, rearrange its parts, or write in the plural to use a plural possessive pronoun instead:
- “Call in order to make arrangements to pick up tickets in advance.”
- “Pick up of tickets in advance can be arranged.”
- “Do you want to pick up your tickets in advance? Call to make arrangements.”
Let’s All Agree
It’s a fine point, but one that makes your writing looked polished. Pronouns and subjects must agree! Put on your copyeditor cap and rewrite your sentence to avoid falling into this common trap.