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Author Topic: The proper possessive adjective for the pronoun “everybody”  (Read 3657 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: March 19, 2015, 01:42:07 PM »

Question posted in my Facebook page by Mary Anne S. Fernandez (March 19, 2015):

Which of the two sentences below is correct? My friends and teachers use “their.”

1. Everybody must do his share of work in the community project.
2. Everybody must do their share of work in the community project.

My reply to Mary Anne S. Fernandez:


Grammatically speaking, both Sentence 1 and Sentence 2 are flawed in using the possessive adjective “his” and “their,” respectively, for the antecedent indefinite pronoun “everybody.” The masculine “his,” of course, is the traditional default usage when the gender of those comprising “everybody” is unknown or unspecified, in which case it’s assumed for grammatical convenience and simplicity that “everybody” is male. However, feminists have long been up in arms against this grammar bias for being sexist, so the stop-gap conciliatory measure of using “his or her” to cover both genders came to use. The problem, though, is that it becomes tedious to read or hear “his or her” being repeated two or more times in a row in the same sentence or paragraph, and obviously vexing and downright erroneous when the reader or listener somehow knows that the “everybody” referred to are actually all males or, conversely, all females (in which case, of course, it would be prudent for the writer or speaker to specifically use either “his” or “her”).

This is primarily why the plural “their” is now more often resorted to in contemporary usage as default possessive adjective for “everybody,” for “their” does eliminate both the sexist default usage “his” and the tedious “his or her” construct. But the obvious question is: Are your friends and teachers well-advised and comfortable in using the plural “their” as default possessive adjective for “everybody”? Hardly, I think, because there’s a glaring disconnect between the notionally singular “everybody” and the grammatically plural “their,” and it’s always very unpleasant to defend yourself against grammar nitpickers.

So what other recourse is left for avoiding this grammatical impasse that will always arise because English has no gender-neutral singular possessive adjective for the indefinite pronoun “everybody”? In my case, to ensure my peace of mind and to avoid being labelled as grammatically deficient, I almost always replace the singular “everybody” with the plural “all” and use the plural “their” as its possessive adjective, as in the following reconstruction of the problematic “everybody” sentence that you presented:

All must do their share of work in the community project.”

Plural indefinite pronoun, plural possessive adjective—I wholeheartedly recommend this to everybody when confronted by the prickly “everybody” dilemma.
« Last Edit: January 16, 2018, 03:44:03 PM by Joe Carillo » Logged

solid9
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« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2016, 08:27:36 AM »

well, said sir.

galing idol, mukhang mapapadalas tambay ko dito sa forum na to.
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If you saw my grammar is wrong, then correct me if I'm wrong. This is why I'm here to learn English.
Joe Carillo
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« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2016, 10:52:31 AM »

Thank you for the compliment, solid9!
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