Did you ever write a sentence like the following, where you just knew something was wrong, but you couldn’t put your finger on it? For example, “Someone forgot their ticket.”
Most people know that the word THEIR refers back to a plural subject, such as in this sentence, “They forgot THEIR tickets.” THEIR refers to THEY, both being plural. So what do we do about the sentence, “Someone forgot their ticket.”?
(If you're getting ready to lie down in bed, then this is perfect timing, because this next paragraph will put you to sleep.)
The obvious is to use SHE or HE instead of THEIR, but what if you don’t know the gender? And please, please, please, do NOT use HIS without knowing. That’s gender bias and with over 60% of merchandise purchased by females, you do not want to alienate your buyers. The English language lacks of a neutral, singular personal pronoun; the only singular personal pronouns are SHE, HE, and IT. It does seem to be more acceptable these days to use THEIR in this situation; but be cautious! If you do this in academic writing, you’ll be treated like a criminal. If you use this in a professional report, you may get away with it, but not without jeopardizing your reputation. Most people just use my #1 trick for looking and sounding smart: rewarding to avoid the problem.
I don’t want to make this more complicated, but I’m going to. The same problem arises when you use the following words: EVERYONE, EVERYTHING, SOMEBODY. Yes, I know two of these words sound plural, but they’re not. Do I LOOK like I’m joking? Here are some perplexing examples:
“Everyone wants their paycheck.” (Yeah, it sounds okay because everyone sounds plural—but it’s not.) Just avoid this mistake by writing, “Everyone wants a paycheck.”
I've come upon an alternative, and I cannot take credit for this pure genius, but I can, at the very least, pass it along to others, who need a nuetral personal pronoun. This word can be broken down like this: she/he/it, hence s/h/it, shorter even, shit. Okay, I realize it's known as a profanity in our language, but let's get past that.