Everything is All Right—and Singular!
Posted by languageandgrammar on April 9, 2008
Many readers have expressed interest in learning how to use the indefinite pronouns everyone, everybody, and everything correctly, and I’m glad they did. We all (yes, all) fall prey to this English language error from time to time. There are actually two parts to this topic.
The first part has to do with whether to use a singular or plural verb. These indefinite pronouns are always singular, so we always use singular verbs with them.
- Everything is all right. (not everything are)
- Everybody likes to solve problems. (not everybody like)
- Everyone agrees on the answer. (not everyone agree)
The second part has to do with whether it’s all right to use the plurals their, theirs, them, and they when referring to the antecedents everyone, everybody, and everything. The answer is no. Because these indefinite pronouns are always singular, they must take singular personal pronouns.
(Incorrect) Everything gets a stamp put on them.
(Correct) Everything gets a stamp put on it.
(Incorrect) Everybody has their own opinion.
(Correct) Everybody has his own opinion.
(Incorrect) Everyone agreed to share their information.
(Correct) Everyone agreed to share his information.
If you’re talking about a group of only females, then you would, of course, say her information or her opinion instead of his.
Especially within the recent past, many people have decided that using his to refer to all people is sexist. Well, we’ve been referring to humans as mankind and using the pronouns him and his to refer to people in general since—well, since beyond the reaches of memory. If you really feel that you’re contributing to the oppression of women by using the masculine pronouns, however, then you could certainly use his or her, as in Everybody has his or her own opinion. (It gets much more cumbersome to do this when you have a sentence such as Everybody has his or her own opinion and likes to do what he or she wants when he or she wants.) You could also just rewrite the sentence, as in Everybody has an opinion. The same rules apply to someone, somebody, something, anybody, anyone, anything, no one, and nobody. (No one likes to pay his bills. Somebody left his briefcase in the conference room.)
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