One of our principles for good writing is “write like you talk, only better.” We think that written language, to be clear, should sound a lot like spoken language. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.
When people talk, they sometimes use constructions that are ungrammatical, yet are commonly used. A good example, his or her, was raised by a former English teacher at a grammar game show I hosted at our Rotary Club.
Pronouns must agree in number with the nouns they represent. The following sentence is grammatically incorrect: Each golfer will receive a special registration package with their scorecard. But that’s the way a lot of people would say it.
The correct way to write the sentence is: Each golfer will receive a special registration package with his or her scorecard.
The problem is, I hate to use “his or her” when I’m writing. It takes too many words, and sounds a bit hoity-toity.
So how do I get around it? By recasting the sentence in the plural: Golfers will receive a special registration package with their scorecards. Now the pronoun “their” agrees with the plural noun “golfers.”
When we write we can’t take liberties; we must use correct grammar. But when good grammar forces us to say something that sounds slightly awkward or stuffy (like the title of this post), find another way to say it.