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I sometimes get myself into grammar traps when I write. Here is a hypothetical example:

“If someone goes to the supermarket in Alameda County, they will need a reusable plastic bag.”

The grammar is wrong because someone is singular and they is plural. The agreement is off. It would be better to write “he will need a reusable bag,” or “she will need a reusable bag.” But each of those sounds awkward.

The solution is always to use a plural: “If people go to the supermarket in Alameda county, they will need a reusable plastic bag.”

Do you run into the same grammar dead end I run into?

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Comments

15 Comments

  1. Jack Orion

    Why not use one?

    If one goes to the supermarket in Alameda County, one will need a reusable plastic bag

    January 8th, 2013 5:52 pm

  2. lameduck

    I’m lucky that you can even understand my writing. I leave all grammar checking to the word processor.

    January 8th, 2013 8:00 pm

  3. Kathy

    Yes, I do run into that, as an editor, sometimes opting for “he or she” but usually writing around it: Supermarket shopping in Alameda County now requires a reusable bag.”

    January 8th, 2013 8:19 pm

  4. Rob

    Loved this post. Reminded me of Theodore Bernstein of the NY Times who years ago wrote an excellent book on word usage and grammar.

    And yes, I do run into this problem from time to time. I’ve taken the same approach that you did.

    January 8th, 2013 9:17 pm

  5. Ryder

    For informal, casual, correspondence I suspect it’s okay to mix the singular and plural references in that manner. I guess one could debate the nature of this forum, but to me it is both informal and casual. Since it’s part of your job (I assume) you may have a different view.

    January 9th, 2013 4:46 am

  6. Streetglide

    Believe it’s call the neutral plural. Might be wrong but it satisfies the gender cops.

    Wrong: “If someone goes to the supermarket in Alameda County, they will need a reusable plastic bag.”

    Proper English: ““If my old lady takes the Camero to the Food For Less, she better gas it up and not forget the beer; and get some of them cheezy twisty thingies also.” Notice the semi-colon for emphasis.

    January 9th, 2013 8:09 am

  7. Terry

    How about “if anyone goes ………..they will need………..

    January 9th, 2013 9:23 am

  8. Terry

    or is “anyone” still singular? Oh well.

    January 9th, 2013 9:24 am

  9. Stan

    “Hey you”… always works.

    January 9th, 2013 9:31 am

  10. KauaiRobert

    “If someone goes to the supermarket in Alameda County, HE OR SHE will need a reusable plastic bag.”
    .
    Why’s that hard?
    .
    .
    .
    ~ALOHA~

    January 9th, 2013 2:47 pm

  11. A

    From what I can tell, the “singular ‘they’” is well-documented, and the “rule” that disallows using the singular “they” is unreliable:

    http://motivatedgrammar.wordpress.com/2009/09/10/singular-they-and-the-many-reasons-why-its-correct/

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tomchiversscience/100184652/if-someone-tells-you-singular-they-is-wrong-please-do-tell-them-to-get-stuffed/

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?cat=27

    January 9th, 2013 6:01 pm

  12. mbabco

    I never am quite sure what to do when saying something like “One of the best things about the trips are the great meals.” One is singular, great meals is plural. “One of the best things about the trips is the great meals.” ????? I really don’

    January 10th, 2013 12:31 am

  13. mbabco

    I really don’t know which is correct.

    January 10th, 2013 12:31 am

  14. KauaiRobert

    mbabco:
    .
    ‘One’ being singular, ‘is’ is appropriate; not ‘are’
    .
    As you know, there is a huge difference between how people speak and how they write.
    .
    I’m sure I’ve uttered sentences similar to yours hundreds of times and said ‘are’ when I should’ve said ‘is’.

    However, I would never write them that way.
    .
    Go figure.
    .
    .
    .
    ~ALOHA~

    January 10th, 2013 12:12 pm

  15. Johnc

    If you go to the supermarket in Alameda County, you will need a reusable plastic bag.

    “You” could be plural or singular so you can say both without having to match them up as singular or plural.

    January 13th, 2013 5:20 am

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