6 Old Grammar Rules That Are Finally Going Out of Style

6 Old Grammar Rules That Are Finally Going Out of Style

The Internet loves a good argument.

See: the 380+ comments on my piece on the Oxford comma debate, which devolved into everything from political jabs to commentary on the fairness of overtime laws.

Despite all better judgment, I sometimes take a look through the most recent comments because Internet reactions amuse me. Amid the many readers continuing to rail against my adoption of AP style on a blog I specifically say uses AP style, I found one observation in particular that made me pause.

To those of you who pointed out my use of a dangling modifier, I confess: You caught me.

I also confess: I don’t feel terribly bad about it.

A few readers rightly picked up on the grammar faux pas in the sentence, “As a diehard Oxford comma loyalist, this ruling made my day.” Read literally, the construction of this sentence infers the court ruling under discussion is a diehard Oxford comma loyalist, not me.

A grammar purist will understandably be nettled by this. But I don’t feel as embarrassed as perhaps I should, because I highly doubt anyone besides a grammar purist would be confused into thinking I was anthropomorphizing a court ruling.

Which lead me me down the rabbit hole of a whole ’nother debate: When does a grammar rule pass into obsolescence? At what point is non-standard sentence construction widely accepted as standard? Can we as writers loosen up on certain rules when general usage renders an “incorrect” syntax perfectly understandable to the average reader?

Hold onto your outrage, Internet. Here are six grammar rules that may be going out of style.

1. Never end a sentence with a preposition

Attempting to follow this rule can result in some painfully stilted sentences, like this gem attributed to Winston Churchill: “This is the sort of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.” (Sadly, this attribution is only anecdotal, but it’s still a gem.)

This rule stems from Latin, English’s ancient ancestor, in which sentence-ending prepositions simply can’t be done.

In modern English usage, however, there’s no reason to cling to this rule — unless you want your writing to sound more formal (or your characters to come across as pompous know-it-alls).

2. Never start a sentence with a conjunction

And why not? There’s no real basis for this rule except teacherly bias and a misplaced fear of sentence fragments.

According to David Crystal in The Story of English in 100 Words, teachers in the 19th century were annoyed with their students’ overuse of conjunctions as sentences starters. Rather than working to correct this tendency, they created a hard-and-fast rule against it — no doubt making their lives easier, but causing quite a headache for writers for centuries to come.

The truth is, there are different types of conjunctions. Subordinating conjunctions (like if, because and when) join a dependent clause with a standalone one. Break apart “If you build it, they will come,” and you have an independent clause that could be its own sentence (“They will come.”) and a fragment that doesn’t make sense by itself (“If you build it…”).

Coordinating conjunctions (like and, but and or) join two independent clauses together: “I was looking forward to the beach, but it rained all day.” Separate the clauses in these cases, and you still have standalone sentences, each with a noun and a verb: “I was looking forward to the beach. But it rained all day.”

While you don’t want all your sentences to be this abrupt, it’s OK to pepper some in for flavor.

grammar rules3. Don’t use sentence fragments

Beginning a sentence with a conjunction will result in some sentence fragments.

As with any other “rule” on this list, this is a no-no for formal writing (i.e., articles in traditional publications, cover letters) but allowable for informal (i.e., blog posts, fiction).

One goal of informal writing is to sound more conversational, and like it or not, we use plenty of sentence fragments in everyday conversation.

4. Never split infinitives

This one’s another holdover from Latin sentence construction. In Latin, an infinitive is a single word; it literally cannot be split. But English’s two-word infinitives can, so why shouldn’t they be?

Opponents argue the split infinitive is inelegant.

An infinitive is a two-word unit that expresses one thought, they hold, and splitting it up makes a sentence less readable. But there are plenty of times when avoiding a split infinitive can lead to linguistic contortions that make a sentence clumsy or ambiguous. It can also change the impact. “To boldly go where no man has gone before” just doesn’t have the same ring as, “To go boldly where no man has gone before.”

Whether or not you split an infinitive is largely a matter of preference; it if makes a sentence smoother or more powerful, go for it.

Use as needed — without feeling bad about it.

5. Never use “who” when you should use “whom”

As Megan Garber argues in an Atlantic article titled “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” grammar rules are intended to clarify language to avoid confusion. And in many cases, “whom simply costs language users more than it benefits them.”

“Whom” is a word that’s been falling out of practice for some time now. As a result, the majority of people don’t know how to use it, resulting in plenty of second-guessing, incorrect usage and less-than-smooth sentences. (Admit it, “Whom You Gonna Call?” hardly makes for a catchy song lyric.)

If you find yourself wrestling over “who” vs. “whom” in a sentence, your best bet is to rephrase the sentence to avoid the issue altogether. A reader may trip over, “With whom did you meet?”; a simple rewrite to, “Which person met with you?” solves the problem.

6. “They” is not a pronoun

Yes, using “he” as a default pronoun sounds sexist. But flipping between “he” and “she” in the same piece can be awkward, and using “he/she” brings the flow of a sentence to a grinding halt. Unless you want to use “it” as a gender-neutral pronoun — which seems insensitive, if not psychotic — that leaves you with “they.”

I get why this makes grammarians cringe. “They” is a plural noun, and we’ve twisted it into a faux singular noun in an attempt to be PC. It’s an imperfect solution, but until a widely recognized alternative comes along, we seem to be stuck.

What’s a writer to do?

Grammar, like language itself, is a constantly evolving creature.

Practices frowned upon in the past make their way into general acceptance as they become widely recognized. Contractions were once considered uncouth, but no one questions them now.

Just like spoken language, written language has dialects, and the adept user knows how to switch between them. An academic paper calls for a vastly different style than an article in a fashion mag.

The best rule of thumb when it comes to deciding whether to follow a seemingly antiquated grammar rule is to know your medium and audience. Know the rules so you can make an informed decision to ignore them for stylistic reasons.

That’s what being a pro is all about.

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76 comments

  • Ken Johnson says:

    I think the phrase “to boldly go” was chosen because the split infinitive makes it so ugly that you remember it. The alternative, “boldly going where no man has gone before” is correct and elegant, but it doesn’t stick in your memory in the same way.

    • Robin Resin says:

      I prefer ‘to go boldly’…
      I also object to the use of the word ‘infer’ when the meaning is clearly ‘imply’ or ‘implies’. To infer is to understand the meaning of what has been said. To imply is to suggest.
      I have used (s)he or s/he rather than succumb to the vernacular which will always sound wrong and sloppy to me.
      And in closing, is there anything that we can do to stop the ghettospeak “What do we got?” when either “What do we have?” or “What do we have?” is correct and so much less jarring. The people who write the scripts for TV are the ones using ‘ghettospeak’, I imagine that they are thinking that they will appeal to more viewers… What a horrible thought!

      • Yes, Robin. Infer and imply are two completely different words with completely different meanings. Anyone using ‘infer’ in place of ‘imply’ is just simply wrong and giving the sentence an entirely different meaning.

      • Penny says:

        Or, “where you at?” Television commercials push bad speech. TV newscasters, too.

    • Wendy says:

      Remember, it’s a list “Boldly going” doesn’t agree in tense with “to explore . . . to seek”

    • David Fitzpatrick says:

      Thanks.

      • Reese says:

        As someone already pointed out, the “To boldly go…” line is part of an intergalactic To Do list.

        The are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. It’s five year mission:
        (1) TO explore strange new worlds;
        (2) TO seek out new life and new civilizations;
        (3) TO boldly go where no man has gone before.

        Yeh, he could have said “to go boldly…” but, in this context, that construct is irrelevant.
        It Is A List!
        It’s not intended as a model for perfect grammar and Gene Roddenberry probably gave no thought whatsoever to how people, decades later, might perceive the structure.

  • Val Rainey says:

    Oh! Just because peoplel have gotten so f’ing lazy it’s ok to send the reader racing down the hall to the bathroom to barf.

    Well, I for one REFUSE to knowingly use sloppy, lazy grammar.

    So those ‘new rules’ can go stuff themselves!

    • Reese says:

      Well, I would have to agree with Val… to a point. I, too, believe too many people have just gotten lazy or are too poorly educated to recognize the errors in their writing and/or speech or to care. I can see no excuse for not properly using your “who” and “whom”. (split infinitive noted) What’s wrong with teaching a kid the simple discernment of “he who” vs “him whom”? And what about “me” and “I”? Do we just ignore the impropriety when someone says something like, “Terry and me went skating last Saturday”? Why not teach the English speaking world the correct usage of “…and me” vs “…and I”? It’s not difficult to learn!

      Neither is it any sort of challenge to learn the proper use of “a” and “an” though too many people seem to stumble over the un-pronounced consonent as in “an historical occasion.” (For those who don’t know, “History” – the “H” is pronounced. “Historical” it is not and, therefore, the correct article should be “an”.)

      Some things, however, are simply the price to pay for a living language that changes with society. But, does that mean we should begin our sentences with “So”, as though we are in mid-explanation of something rather than beginning a topic conversation? I certainly hope not!
      There are words being introduced into the English language which I find horrific but accept as a part of that living language. “Adulting”? Really? Are there really so many adolescent adults in the world that we must make note when they behave in a mature manner?

      And then there is that old ditty from my mother’s school days: “You can’t use ain’t ’cause ain’t ain’t in the dictionary”. Well, that one, we all should know, is wrong on all counts. But many people don’t realize that, in the early years of the formative American nation, the common British contraction “ain’t” was a convenient multiple-use contraction for “is not”, “am not”, “are not”. And yet, today, people using that innocent little contraction are looked upon as ignorant or uneducated.

      So does that mean we should also accept phrasing such as “I seen…”? Or perhaps that means we should not cringe when someone says, “I been…” or “We done…” And how many times have you seen the incorrect usage of “its” and “it’s”? Do we just throw up our hands in surrender?

      I guess the real question is how far are we willing to go in surrender of knowledge for the pursuit of ‘simplicity’? For at least four decades now, America has blithely accepted the dumbing down of the education of its children, accepting mediocrity to the point that some students entering college must pay to take non-credit remedial courses in high school basics just to get to the point where they can comprehend college level classes while in other places of no-longer-higher-learning the schools are acceeding to the outcry of complaints and they are accepting these poorly educated students in the hopes of being able to teach them what they should have learned in grade school and high school as they try to teach them college level courses.

      As I have already said, language is a living thing. It changes and morphs, GROWING with the society’s needs. But to accept mediocrity in the place of knowledge and learning is just surrendering to mediocrity… Giving in to laziness and accepting the unacceptable. And that, my friends, is unconscionable and displays a total lack of integrity.

      • Deanna says:

        I hear what you’re saying about the changes in our grammar over the years. Sometimes, though, the “breaking of the rules” is more strategic than lazy. As a direct response copywriter, my job is to write conversationally. I would not be caught dead saying “Tim and me went to the store.” However, I do start sentences with “and” and “but” when needed. I do have one word paragraphs at times. These choices are deliberately made to call attention to something important in my copy — something that could make the sale.

        However, I’m not that free and easy with the rules when I’m wearing my author hat and writing a book. I believe the reason you’re writing and the audience for whom you’re writing dictates how strictly you can (or should) adhere to traditional grammar rules.

        • Reese says:

          And you are exactly right, Deanna. Word choice and usage should reflect the context and circumstances in which they are being used.

          Absolutely!

      • Wendy says:

        I don’t know what dialect you speak, but around here “historical” sounds just as much as “history.” We don’t change the beginning of the word for what it sounds like on the end.

      • ConnieMWT says:

        Those who argue that English is alive and changing according to our cultural needs, I say “Balderdash!” If that were the case, we’d be speaking Ebonics in the inner city schools. Rules were meant to be followed. Use the ones you need to. but don’t think you can make up your own rules. If you tend to stray, be prepared for criticism. The Grammar Police are on patrol.

        • Reese says:

          If language did not change, we would still be pronouncing “It” as “hit”. We would still be using words such as “thee” and “thou” in daily conversation. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of words in the unabridged dictionary that have not been used in many generations. But, if language were not so “malleable”, we would still be using all of those archaic words. THAT is the root of a “living” language as opposed to the so-called dead languages such as Latin.

  • Language changes over time, and we should embrace that, but I lament that linguistics is not taught in schools. I taught college freshmen, and they had no idea what the subject of sentences was. Sometimes they would suggest a verb as the subject. This lack of knowledge about how sentences are constructed leaves them depending entirely upon their ear, which reverts to spoken English (or another language) for support, and when we speak, we are supported by hand gestures, tone of voice, the context of the conversation, and knowledge which the speakers knows is shared with the listener. English used to be a Germanic languages, and only a few remnants, such as “whom” remain. Using a different from for the object and the subject gives the language a certain flexibility, as the “whom,” the object, can be placed anywhere in the sentence and retain its function. Similarly, a conjunction is meant to connect two thoughts which, if standing alone, would be unconnected. If two thoughts are meant to be connected, using the conjunction makes the language clear. Gail Collins, the opinion write for the New York Times, makes frequent use of conjunctions to begin sentences, mainly for humorous effect. Writers should be aware of the rule so that they know what happens when they break it. I wish that students were taught how meaning is made, how sentences are constructed, a bit of historical linguistics (so they would realize how language continually changes), and how language is used in daily life. I used to ask my students, for example, “What are three words you would not use in our family if your grandmother was present?” They had never thought this way, but the point was made that we change our vocabulary and sentence structure when we are in varying social settings.

  • Jan Toms says:

    Interesting, but three times today I have been attacked by acronyms. I don’t know what EB, BAME or, in your case, AP stand for. Context hasn’t necessarily been helpful. Already battling with the spellcheck’s refusal to accept “An” and insisiting that it should be “A”. even when the result sounds unsympathetic to the ear. Woe is me – or should that be, Woe am I?

  • JEN Garrett says:

    Yes, I’m willing to bend on those six rules… But the hanging modifier – nope, not willing to give that one up. Yet.

  • Deanna says:

    I love this article. As a direct response copywriter, my job is to write the way people speak. So, I merrily split my infinitives, start sentences with “and” or “but,” and use sentence fragments.

    Not only does it make my copy sound more conversational, but breaking those rules is a great way to call the prospect’s attention to important points in the copy. For example, I’ve been known to put the rule-breaker, “But, there’s good news…” all by itself in a paragraph.

    Yeah, I know. Shocking.

    Of course, it helps to KNOW the rules before you break them. Believe it or not, I used to write very properly before I got into copywriting. But, I have to admit… writing the way people speak — and breaking the rules — is so much more fun!

  • Kathy Karch says:

    Not to kick a hornet’s nest here, but I was under the impression that there are no grammar rules, only suggestions that were made once upon a time for the sake of clarity in communication. Aren’t all these “rules” technically flexible?

    • Wendy says:

      The rules exist as much as our understanding of specific meanings of words exist. Which rules are in effect depend on what kind of writing you’re doing. Your teacher would never accept a sentence fragment in a classroom essay, but it’s quite common in casual writing when the author wants to emphasize something. Like this.

  • Kathy Karch says:

    P.S. Singular “they,” the gender-neutral pronoun, was named the Word of the Year by a crowd of over 200 linguists at the American Dialect Society’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C. this year, and the AP Style book was updated to support this decision.

    • Charles says:

      I was hoping and searching for for a sane reply port, and tag! you’re it. I agree with the mere suggestions over break-yer-knuckles rules. One thing I have noticed is this. Find an author who’s been writing for a while, decades not years, and go back to some of their first pile of words and compare it to what just fell out of their head last week. It’s amazing how our language does change. My goal is to never find I’ve written to my editor over grammar, et al, “Fran – your an idiot…cedwards”

      • Reese says:

        And how many people will miss that on the first read? 🙁

      • Ken Johnson says:

        To Charles: Nobody doubts that language changes with time. The point is that it changes as it wills. You can’t change it to suit yourself and support the trendy political cause of the moment. You may wish that the English language did not respect natural gender and distinguish between masculine and feminine nouns, but it does, and if you write as though it didn’t, your writing will be tiresome, unfathomable and desperately Politikally Korrekt.

        • Ash Roberts says:

          Besides the singular, 3rd-person pronouns of he, she, and it, can you point to another instance of English distinguishing the gender of a word?

          • Kristine says:

            Him, her and them.

          • Certain nouns are considered feminine, such as a ship, wind (They Call the Wind Maria is a well known son) and some are considered neutral, a river is “it.” If an object is not an “it,” it would be masculine; for example, if I see a dog in the elevator, I usually use “he” in conversation with his owner.

          • Ash Roberts says:

            Those aren’t examples of the nouns being feminine, but of the tendency to ascribe female attributes to inanimate objects.
            As far as the dog, if you misgendered my pet, I would correct you.

  • ConnieMWT says:

    I think the first memorable singular “they” I encountered was Sting’s “If you love someone, set them free.” Still causes the heebie-jeebies in my little world. Sorry, I cannot relent on that one. I avoid it by reconstructing the sentence.

  • Lynn Jarrett says:

    It is a sad time when just about anything goes in writing. You will never find me ending a sentence with a preposition. I will never use the singular “they.” Fragmented sentences have caused me to stop reading several books over the last year, a couple of the books were by popular authors.

    It would seem as though there are no rules of grammar or writing any longer. I think some writers have gotten lazy (and readers have let them) and now it is being accepted for the norm.

  • Taren Randal says:

    Just some thoughts:

    1. For PC purposes can’t we just use the pronoun that’s appropriate for ourselves? ie. I as a man would use “He,” but a woman would use “She.” Is that too difficult?

    2. In a command, the subject is implied. When I say “Be quiet!” we all understand that the subject is “you” but try putting the you into that sentence. It becomes less emphatic and not so much of a command. Leaving the “you” out of that sentence makes it better. I think that many of the fragments that we write have implied subject-verb pairs that are obvious from the context. So I believe that fragments are only fragments in the grammarian’s mind unless what is implied is not clear.

    3. As for the other stuff, I’m ready to get the latin out of my English.

    • Ken Johnson says:

      1. You mean, since I’m male, I should write, “*Sarah boarded the train and when it stopped at York, he got off.” No. The rule in English is that “the male imports the female,” that is, unless the noun is definitely feminine, the pronoun is masculine. Thus “If any person fails to pay his subscription within four weeks of the due date, he shall cease to be a member,” “Any member of staff needing a taxi shall inform the office, who will book one for him.”
      2. “Be quiet!” has the implicit subject “you,” but some imperatives in English have explicit subjects: “Let’s go north,” “He should shut up,” “Let me muck about.”

      • Taren Randal says:

        The situation we are talking about is when the gender is unknown. Its this kind of turning the brain off that is most irritating.

        • Ken Johnson says:

          My brain is firing on all four neurons, thank you very much. The gender of the subject is unknown in the second and third of the examples I gave. I realise that insulting people you’ve never met on bulletin boards is all the go, so I don’t challenge your right to do it, but I do point out that you give gratuitous offence and you look silly when you correct a writer who knows more about English grammar than you do while you can’t spell “it’s.”

  • Tracy Corral says:

    Where does the word “stylic” come from? (As in the 2nd to the last sentence in this post, “Know the rules so you can make an informed decision to ignore them for stylic reasons.”)
    I’ve never seen it before and I looked it up in an old dictionary I have and couldn’t find it.

    Thanks!

  • Bernie Randall says:

    My schooling was in an English secondary modern school. Our English teacher a Mr Salter allowed us artistic license. I left school aged 15 and now I am 67 have begun writing my first book. I do agree with everything written above and take on board all the criticisms in reply. Unfortunately over the years every country has had their influx of immigrants who have brought with them their own type of English. In this politically and gender-neutral world we live in we have embraced this new type of English language if only to be understood and integrated it into our own. The rules now have gone out of the window which is sad but also inevitable.

  • Stacy says:

    I think capitulating to these “modernizations” of our language simply represents laziness. No one need use the phrase “up with which I will not put” when a more elegant phrase like “which I will not tolerate” will do the job without breaking a rule. Most of the broken-rule examples in this article have similar solutions if a user is acquainted with a broader vocabulary and has a more comprehensive command of language.

  • Love that you gave me permission for many “grammar errors” that I have been struggling with in my writing. I am still a diehard comma girl, but the others I agree with wholeheartedly.

  • Katharine says:

    I’d far rather be right and thought wrong, than wrong and though right. Sorry. I get the fragments, end prepositions, and beginning conjunctions excuses coming from another new rule: to write the way we speak (and not knowing or caring how to speak.)
    However, when writing correctly will not bother anyone, as in not splitting infinitives, then we should write correctly, because not to do so would stumble someone reading along in English and therefore expecting each word and construction to be English.
    Also, when writing correctly will offend those we truly hope to offend, as in using the neuter “he” correctly, then, please, let them flee and read elsewhere; I’m happy.

  • Under number 6, why would the use of the word “one” not work? I understand it can seem a bit stilted, but that may be a better problem than the alternatives.

  • Michele says:

    I argue that rules stick and that what you talk about is a type of writing that is called conversational and useful for marketing and related purposes. As a writer who is tired of editors not editing and companies accepting just about any content, I am not happy with this perspective.You are not correct that the standards are out of style.

    BTW..it’s not whether or not…it’s just whether…that’s the determine of to do or not. Thta’s not out of style.

  • Matt S says:

    But wait! There’s more! To laughingly point out the glaring errors in these replies, which there are a lot of, makes these writers, and “their” comments seem, to me, hilarious! Regardless which side of the argument they fall on!!!! (Hopefully, people realize my intentional breaking of the rules here…). Communication is the purpose of writing. As far as I am concerned, follow the rules when it makes sense to do so; otherwise, the prime rule is: make certain that whatever meaning one is communicating comes through in one’s text. If one follows that rule, the rest becomes irrelevant.

  • Reese says:

    “In modern English usage, however, there’s no reason to cling to this rule — unless you want your writing to sound more formal (or your characters to come across as pompous know-it-alls).”
    OK, Kelly. As writers, we all should recognize that character speech does not fall under standard rules of speech and grammar. Neither should all characters use the same patterns or patois of speech, unless, of course, you are aiming for a particular effect.
    Character speech should reflect an amalgam of the society in which the characters live and that of the target reader. You would not consider, I would hope, using masters-level language in a children’s picture book. The same holds true across all forms of writing. So, on that, your argument falls flat.
    And, while I’m thinking of it, are we now to ignore the difference between “affect” and “effect” just because people don’t know the difference? Do we toss out the word “rein” because people can’t distinguish between that and “reign”?
    Where do we draw the line and demand education over whatever sloppy, uncaring excuse for learning comes in second?

  • Peter Buxton says:

    Paul McCartney wrote the line “Nobody I know could love you more than me”. The classic song of the narcissist.

  • Dave says:

    I have a book manuscript in which I address the gender designation issue early on, thus:

    “Just for the record, a comment re: political correctness. I abhor political correctness. I try not to be insensitive to other peoples’ feelings but I categorically reject the notion that everybody has a “right” to be offended. That’s not a right, it’s simply a choice you make, and I grant you the freedom to make that choice but don’t expect me to apologize for your decision. I’m “old school” and traditional in my writing. I use the masculine pronoun to include all people, as I was taught to do in formal writing at a young age and I shall continue to do so until somebody invents a gender neutral pronoun, a project beyond the scope of this book; so, to be specific:

    When I write “he” that also includes “she”, where applicable.

    When I write “him” that also includes “her”, where applicable.

    When I write “man”, “men” or “mankind” that also includes “woman”, “women” or “womankind”, where applicable.

    When I write “Big Boy pants” that also includes “Big Girl pants”.

    No offence intended, but you’re welcome to choose to be offended if you like. Your call, everybody needs a hobby…”

  • Peter Buxton says:

    I worked with a counsel who would divert any job applicant’s cv that contained a split infinitive straight to the trash bin.

  • WordNerd says:

    You mean it *led* you down the rabbit hole.

  • Wendy says:

    He-she-they

    If you look at the romantic languages, they all have singular and plural forms of first, second, and third person. And in all of them, the plural is considered more formal than the singular. (Hence, the “Royal We”) If you look at the rules for English pronouns, you can see that “you” is grammatically plural–the singular form has been lost. By that logic, it is grammatically correct to use “they/their” to refer to a single individual, and a growing number of publications are adjusting their stlpe guides to reflect that.

    • ClaireC says:

      The singular “they” was used by Geoffrey Chaucer, Lewis Carroll, Walt Whitman, George Eliot, Shakespeare, William Thackeray, Jane Austen, and Oscar Wilde. It has been used by good writers from before the writing of most of the grammar books that condemn the practice.

      English has a long history of confusion of singular and plural. We have nearly lost the 2nd person singular pronoun; Baskervill & Sewell, in their 1896 book, “An English Grammar”, say “we have no singular pronoun of the second person in ordinary speech or prose, but make the plural you do duty for the singular. We use it with a plural verb always, even when referring to a single object.”

      In the same book, we find this in the discussion of pronouns and their antecedents:
      “411. Another way of referring to an antecedent … is to use the plural of the pronoun following… the construction is frequently found when the antecedent includes or implies both genders. The masculine does not really represent a feminine antecedent, and the expression his or her is avoided as being cumbrous.”

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