Business Grammar: Using Pronouns Clearly

by Mary Cullen on Thu, Oct 1, 2015

pronoun business grammar

This statement contains a business grammar error. Find and correct it:
You want a criminal attorney who spends 100% of their time defending the accused, someone who is up to date on all the current case law and statutes, and someone who is not afraid to fight for their clients in the courtroom.

Call our office at 555-5555 for a free consultation.

Correction:

You want a criminal attorney who spends 100% of their his or her time defending the accused, someone who is up to date on all the current case law and statutes, and someone who is not afraid to fight for their his or her clients in the courtroom.

Call our office at 555-5555 for a free consultation.

Explanation:

This is a pronoun agreement error. The subject of the sentence is singular (attorney) so the pronoun referring must also be singular.

Because a pronoun REFERS BACK to a noun or TAKES THE PLACE OF that noun, you have to use the correct pronoun so that your reader clearly understands which noun your pronoun is referring to. If the pronoun takes the place of a singular noun, you have to use a singular pronoun:

  • If an employee parks a car on site, he or she has to buy a parking sticker.
  • (NOT: If an employee parks a car on site, they have to buy a parking sticker.)

Solution:

Many business writers find the construction “his or her” wordy, so if it is possible to use a plural noun as your antecedent so that you can use “they” as your pronoun, it may be wise to do so. If you do use a singular noun and the context makes the gender clear, then it is permissible to use just “his” or “her” rather than “his or her.”

For example, if the lawyer in this example is a woman: “You want a criminal attorney who spends 100% of her time defending the accused…” is perfect.

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Topics: Business Grammar

Mary Cullen

About the author

Mary Cullen

Mary founded Instructional Solutions in 1998, and is an internationally recognized business writing trainer and executive writing coach with two decades of experience helping thousands of individuals and businesses master the strategic skill of business writing. She excels at designing customized business writing training programs to maximize productivity, advance business objectives, and convey complex information. She holds a B.A in English from the University of Rhode Island, a M.A in English Literature from Boston College, and a C.A.G.S. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of New Hampshire.

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