How to Use Pronouns Correctly

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This week I found myself going back and forth on how to correctly address a business entity in text while working on a project. It was late, I was tired, my mind was playing tricks on me. A business is run by a group of people so the pronoun should be they! I thought to myself. Then the editor in me–that had been asleep somewhere in my consciousness–finally chimed in, sweat over her brow, serious as usual with a bit of crazy in her eye. Don’t you dare type “they” again.

What is a pronoun? There’s no need to get fancy with it. A pronoun is basically a word used in place of a noun (he, she, it, me, you they, everybody, each, few, none, someone, many, who, whoever). Why do these words get a fancy name?  Because of rules, that’s why. All jokes aside, I wish I knew. English is complicated and to complicate things, what’s technically correct isn’t always how we speak to others so it takes a conscious effort to write correctly.

A business is an “it” or a “that” so use the proper pronoun accordingly and never address it as a group of people with personal pronouns like, “who” or “they”. To help settle any confusion, a business is made up of more than just a group of workers so simply can’t be a “who” or “they”.  A business is made up of a license, machines, office space, ideas and more things that make it an “it”.

Examples

  • Yes. I work for a business that rewards its employees; its mission is to serve so it’s a great place to work.
  • No.  I work for a business who rewards their employees;  their mission is to serve so they’re a great place to work for.
  • Yes. The university located on Elm Street is very strict about its uniform policy.
  • No. The university located on Elm Street is very strict about their uniform policy.
  • Yes. The dog is making its way to the finish line! Will it finish the race?
  • No (no matter how much we want to believe otherwise, animals are “its”).  The dog is making her way to the finish line! Will she finish the race?

-E

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3 comments on “How to Use Pronouns Correctly”

  1. A few thoughts about pronouns and animals:
    You’re right about the dog. Traditionally a dog is an “it”. But sometimes we can choose to be in the vanguard. Language changes through use. If we think of animals as “it” then that gives us permission, morally, to treat the dog and any other animal as having the rights of an object–essentially, property rights. Check out the work of the Nonhuman rights project http://www.nonhumanrightsproject.org/2015/04/20/judge-recognizes-two-chimpanzees-as-legal-persons-grants-them-writ-of-habeas-corpus/. Language not only reflects but also affects the way we see the world. There was a time when Ms. was considered the exclusive preference of a fringe political movement. Now its usage is mainstream. Of course there are times when putting principle aside may be advisable. In formal business communication, for example, referring to an animal as a “she” or “he” will probably be seen as an indication of ignorance and achieve no purpose whatever. But in other writing–a comment, an essay, a story–I consciously use “he” or “she”. My loss in reputation is worth the symbolic gesture.
    Just a few thoughts on your excellent post.

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    1. Hi Rhythm Prism! I definitely agree. Behind the scenes, I consistently use “human” pronouns with my dog because she’s such a sweetie. I found her at a shelter in February. And strangely, I thought I was a cat person until I found her. Thanks for sharing the article! Times are always changing . 🙂

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