Re: Evolving language or laziness?

Subject: Re: Evolving language or laziness?
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Sat, 16 Mar 1996 07:39:00 EST

At 01:59 AM 3/16/96 GMT, you wrote:
>>"Everyone was blowing their nose"

>This sentence is actually correct because it is elliptical. The meaning of
>the sentence is "Everyone (of the people) was blowing their nose(s)." The
>antecendent of "their" is not "Everyone," which is singular, but "people,"
>which is plural. The subject of the sentence, "Everyone," is singular and
>thus gets a singular verb "was." Funny how speakers know that "their" is
>ok, but prescriptive grammarians can't understand why.

>Brad Connatser
>Concurrent Communications
>concom -at- usit -dot- net

Actually, the correctness of the sentence is debatable, since the general
rule is to analyze whether or not the antecedent is plural or singular and
then make the pronoun correspond, and a collective is a hard call. In this
instance, there's enough fog to warrant recasting the sentence so it's
clearer: "Each person blew his own nose," or "Everybody blew their
collective nose."

The major point to be kept in mind is that we're in the business to
eliminate confusion and imprecision, not to chuckle over it. If there is any
hint that a sentence can be interpreted in two ways, I recast it. And the
damndest little bits of grammar or punctuation can screw up a perfectly
clean sentence.

Tim Altom
Vice President
Simply Written, Inc.
317.899.5882 (voice)
317.899.5987 (fax)

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