Common Problems and Ways to Avoid Them
- When making statements that apply to people in general, writers
should not use pronouns that favor one gender over the other.
A customer should always know his rights. [biased]
- Since many customers are also women, the following revision removes
the bias; however, it is awkward.
A customer should always know his or her rights. [unbiased but awkward]
- The best way to handle gender bias is to put all of the pronouns and
their antecedents into plural forms, since plural pronouns cannot indicate gender.
Customers should always know their rights. [correct
- A common error, especially in everyday speech, is ditching pronoun
agreement for the sake of avoiding gender bias and the awkward he / she constructions.
This is not allowable in formal or academic writing.
A customer should always know their rights. [agreement
- Another common error is to sacrifice the point of view to avoid
gender bias and the he / she construction. The rule is that writers should use a
consistent point of view, so switching in mid-sentence is definitely out of the question.
In addition, writers who err in this manner usually switch to the second person point of
view (you, your, yours) which is inappropriate for formal or academic writing.
A customer should always know your rights. [inconsistent
point of view, confusing]
- In general, writers tend to overuse pronouns, so a final suggestion
is to weed out the pronouns and revise the sentences so that neither gender bias nor
agreement snarls become an issue.
Well-informed customers can usually spot dishonest business
practices before becoming victims.
- Recognize singular pronouns and check the agreement. The following
indefinite pronouns are singular--even though some of them may sound plural in meaning:
- Remember this general rule: if the pronoun contains the words
"one" "thing," or "body," then the pronoun is singular.
Each of the cats have a unique personality. [incorrect]
Each of the cats has a unique personality. [correct]
- The following indefinite pronouns are considered plural:
Make sure that a verb agrees with its subject.
- Don't let intervening modifiers confuse you. Whenever in doubt,
isolate the simple subject by blocking out the modifiers. Objects of prepositional phrases
are the most common sources of confusion.
A batch of pencils sit in a broken mug on my desk. [incorrect]
A batch of pencils sits in a broken mug on my desk. [correct]