Happy New Year … and a pet peeve of mine re: grammar

Tallent Agency VA Services

Can you believe we have a fresh, brand new year? We can accomplish
lots of new tasks and make new dreams come true.

It is 1-1-11 – that is so awesome! What do you plan to achieve with this fresh start you are getting? I am determined to make regular and loyal updates to my blogs, here and for my ezine of almost eleven years,
Rim Digest at Rim Digest blog AND my newest that I had wanted for years: Healthy Living, which is the one for my Health & Wellness Products Superstore.

I wear many hats, only one of which is of a Virtual Assistant , specializing in proofreading , editing , transcriptions and social media assistance.

As a proofreader, I bring to the table one of my all-time pet peeves that was drummed into my head by all of my English teachers in both grade school and high school AND later in tech school where I got my degree in Computerized Medical Office Technology.

Some of my editing clients prefer I leave it “as is”, so I do, but the article in
Daily Writing Tips
, which I am using with their permission, really sums it up for me!

A Person Is Not a “They.” Neither Is an Army.

So you want to be politically correct, you want to be inclusive, and you would never assume that every nurse and every teacher in the world is a “she.” Right?


But sometimes this worthy thought leads us to perform some very clumsy gymnastics. Consider this passage from a guide for a doctor’s front office staff:

Show the patient how to use their medicine.

Does this patient have three heads with three mouths through which to ingest medications? Or maybe the patient is using a medication produced by several Big Pharma companies?

We can see the impulse behind this absurdity: whoever wrote this document didn’t want to suggest that every patient in the practice was a “he.” Or a “she,” unless the doc’ was a gynecologist. But this good intention led to a moment of bad grammar: pronouns need to agree with their nouns.

We have several alternatives that honor our desire for inclusiveness without sliding into the ridiculousness. One obvious strategy is simply to make the noun plural:

Show patients how to use their medicine.

Another is to change the pronoun (his, her, its) to an article (the, a, an):

Show the patient how to use the medicine.

Or, if it works in the context, we can change the singular “medicine” to the plural:

Show the patient how to use medicines.

Each of these approaches allows the writer to make sense without offending anyone’s sensibilities.

Remember: in U.S. English, collective nouns are singular:

Zappit Electric just raised its rates. (Not “their rates”)
An army travels on its stomach. (Not “their stomach”)
The jury returned its verdict. (Not “their verdict”)

Not so in the Queen’s English: Brits see collective nouns as plural (e.g., “The jury returned their verdict”). But when you’re writing for a U.S. publisher, corporation, government agencie, and similar entities, take singular verbs and singular pronouns.

What do you think? Do you use *they* in this way and find that you are happy doing so?
If was editing YOUR work, would you feel I was maybe too nit-picky or would you appreciate the fact that I really CARE how your writings come across to those of us who ARE picky when we are reading?

I would love to hear your comments and opinions!

If your web pages, blog posts, reports, sales pages, books, etc. are not grammar and spelling error free, why not contact me and we can get them all into shape for this brand new year!

Spelling & Grammar Errors Are Costing You Business!

Remember, I am a Virtual Assistant who LOVES to do editing, proofreading
and transcription assignments along with research, blog posts, article submissions
and social media maintenance!

Why not Schedule a Project now?

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3 Responses to “Happy New Year … and a pet peeve of mine re: grammar”

  1. Wanda Shapiro Says:


    This is also a pet peeve of mine, among others. I don’t understand why people don’t use “its” instead of “their.” However, if you look back, I’m pretty sure “its” was never used widely. Before PC language changes the masculine was used by default when gender was non-specific.

    Thanks for the post and Happy New Year! I love grammar even if it gets butchered all the time.
    Wanda Shapiro´s latest blog post My Indie Year In Review

  2. Louise Edington Says:

    Hmmm – well I speak the Queens English so might find it a little irritating. However, Would I try to step back and realize that it’s the reader you are editing for? Not sure. I like to emphasize my Britishness at times. Something to ponder.
    Louise Edington
    Facing Fears For Freedom
    Louise Edington´s latest blog post Review- The Four Agreements By Don Miguel Ruiz

  3. Jan Tallent Says:

    Thanks for commenting, Louise. I am sure your grammar is just fine to anyone reading what you write – I know I always love reading you :-)

    If I were editing for someone who was somewhere else than the US, I would, of course, take that into consideration but I see this on US based company web sites and blogs and it is like a fingernail down a blackboard to me.

    Just my personal take on it and one shared by one of my favorite “editing helper” ezines.

    Glad your pipes are thawed and hope your knee heals up nicely!

    Jan :-)

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Over the past 17+ years, Jan Tallent has spent countless hours providing writers and webmasters with free friendly tips on how to correct spelling and grammar errors in their written material.

From the feedback received she decided that since proofreading and editing help was so desperately needed, she should build a business around something she enjoys doing, while at the same time providing a valuable service to business owners and writers.

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Jan Tallent
Tallent Agency
Phone: (636)-259-6920
Email: jantallent@gmail.com
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