I've noticed that singular words like everyone and
everybody (as well as other indefinite pronouns, such
as someone, somebody, nobody, etc.) are often used
with plural possessives. For example, I often hear people say things
Everyone needs to pick up their
Is it becoming grammatically acceptable to do this? I thought the
correct way was
Everyone needs to pick up his or
Whether to use a singular or plural pronoun to refer to a singular
indefinite pronoun depends on how 揷orrect?you want to be.
A study by Nesbitt, reported on page 305 of The Grammar Book,
2nd ed. (Heinle & Heinle, 1999), says:
The everyone卼heir combination actually occurred far more
frequently than the sexist his form and the wordy his
or her form.
A subsequent study by Lagunoff, also reported on page 305, shows these
examples of real language:
Someone left their sweatshirt here.
No one sends their children to public school any more.
Has anyone lost their pen?
Who ever gets to imagine that they might become an artist?
Every (parent/mother/father) thinks their baby is cute.
Lagunoff concludes that teachers can certainly present the they
as an option students can use to refer to indefinite pronouns in informal
spoken and written contexts.
Similarly, The Collins COBUILD English Dictionary (HarperCollins,
1995) contains this sentence under its entry for everyone,
illustrating existing usage of they to refer to everyone:
Everyone in the street was shocked when they heard the news.
Betty Azar, in Understanding and Using English Grammar,
3rd ed. (Pearson Education, 2002, chart 8-2, p.134), states:
A singular pronoun is used in formal English to refer to an indefinite
pronoun, as in (f) and (g) [below]. In everyday informal English,
a plural personal pronoun is often used to refer to an indefinite
pronoun, as in (h).
Somebody left his book on the desk.
Everyone has his or her own ideas.
Somebody left their book on the desk.
Everyone has their own
In summary, it appears that they and their
have logically evolved into acceptable usage as referents to everyone.
His, her, or his/her,
of course, are suitable for formal use.