Not So Fast

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Feeling cocky because you’ve haven’t needed to slow down to get there, they’re, and their right since third grade? Good for you, but there’s more to that story.

1. You’d never write this, correct? There’s four all-stars on our team. Of course not, because “all-stars” is plural. So we’d start with “There are four all-stars.”

2. And you might make another refinement, right? That’s because the verb “to be” is bland, and whenever we start sentences with “There is” or “There are,” we have painted ourselves into a corner and settled on a form of “to be.” But if we avoid the limp beginning, a dynamic verb might occur to us. For example: Our team boasts four all-stars or Four all-stars exemplify the caliber of our team.

3. Would you write this? We are talking to the company about their security procedures. Well, I wouldn’t, but I’m overly fussy. You can, however, because even though “company” is singular and “their” is plural, it’s clear we are talking to people at the company – not to the building.

But here I’d definitely recommend a change: I love everything about the company – even their logo. In this sentence we are referring to the company itself, the business – not the leaders or employees. So let’s strike “their”: I love everything about the company – even its logo.

4. And what about this? Everyone needs to turn in their March expenses by April 7. Although “everyone” is singular (it means “every one“), using “their” is probably passable, especially because its clunky to replace “their” with “his or her” or “his/her.” But we can escape this problem simply by rewording: All employees need to turn in their March expenses by April 7.

You can go to http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml to learn more about my workshops on writing in the workplace, individual coaching, editing, and handbook – 100+ Instant Writing Tips. Thank you.

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