Who’s Organizing Team Pronoun-Antecedent?

Who's on first

“Grammar, have you heard about the new softball league?” Detective Dis Connect asked his partner.

“No, who’s organizing it?”

“Ralph told Norman he should be in charge, but Serena told Mabel she would be better at it.”

“What?” Grammar was confused.

Dis just prattled on, “They organized their own teams and just took over.”

“Who took over?”

“They did. They just started it up, but they need more teams since they only have two.”

“Whose teams are set?” Grammar asked.

“The Comma Comets and the Paragraph Panthers. But it needs a few more people for a full roster,” Dis explained.

“Which needs more players?”

“The team does. Haven’t you been paying attention?”

“I thought I was, but now I’m just confused,” Grammar said. She felt a bubble deep in her memory hinting that she had heard this before.

“They have it all set. You just have to sign up for that team or organize your own.”

“If I start my own team, who gets the roster?” Grammar felt a migraine coming on.

“Just email it to them. They’ll get back to you. There are lots of officers who want to play. You should talk to her about being your pitcher.”


“Well, you just can’t have anyone pitch. You need someone with talent. I’d start with her then have him as a backup.”

“You know what, Dis?” Grammar sighed. “I think you’re the guy for the job. Let me know what position you want me to play when you get it all sorted out with them.”

Can ‘It’ Solve the Pronoun Conflict?

Pronouns in handcuffsThe squad room was packed with third person plural pronouns hauled in after the Usage Unit’s raid.

“It ain’t fair!” Them protested. “Somebody has to step in and take care of things.”

“Yeah,” They chimed in. “You think He and She are gonna step in, those weaklings?”

“Don’t you have something better to do with your time than constantly hounding me about something?” Their complained.

Dis Connect shook his head sadly.

“You’d think they would learn and not hook up with singular antecedents,” Dis said.

“Well, it’s not entirely their fault,” Grammar Smith said. “Unlike many other languages, English doesn’t have a gender neutral, singular, third person pronoun. So, to avoid sounding sexist, many writers (and most speakers) put in the plural. This is likely when you see pronouns like anyone, someone, each, or somebody as the antecedent.”

In English, when the gender of the antecedent is unknown, the singular third person pronoun traditionally used is masculine:

Every student must make up his mind about things.

“Of course, that makes about half the population (like me) unhappy,” Grammar said.

One solution is to use both singular third person pronouns:

Every student must make up his or her mind about things.

“Very clumsy, and I especially detest the artificial s/he construction,” she continued.

“What about it?” Dis asked. “That’s a singular, gender neutral, third person pronoun.”

“That’s a funny thing,” Grammar replied. “You would think, with all the fluidity of the English language, that would be a logical choice. Then again, who said proper usage was always logical?”

It is only used when referring to things or animals, never people.

“Lots of people use they with singular antecedents, but it tends to get confusing,” Grammar said. “There are some people who think gender is not binary, so just he and she are not enough to reflect that.”

“I’ve heard some people use ze as a neutral pronoun,” Dis offered.

“Yes, that may be the wave of the future,” Grammar mused. “Or maybe people will just use it. No matter what, it looks like the rules are going to change.”

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