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Why "everyone" should be plural

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To decide proper usage, why do we focus on the last three letters of “everyone,” but not on the last three letters of “person”?

It’s that “one” part of “everyone” that makes it singular, even though more than one person is meant. “Everyone—I think plural if regarding the whole word—should bring their manuscripts,” would be so much simpler, frequently less awkward than with singular pronouns, and clearly understood.

We have no such issues with “person.” No one thinks it refers only to male offspring, just because of the last three letters.
#1 - January 15, 2016, 11:07 AM

Everyone is a collective noun, which functions grammatically in the singular. "Group" is also a collective noun, if that helps you think about it in a way that makes sense. As is "flock." Collective nouns can be confusing is you think about them too hard, but they do work like this: The people in that group are tall and thin. That group of people is tall and thin. ::-)
#2 - January 15, 2016, 11:31 AM

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Thanks, HD. I understand the reality, just arguing for change. To me the "group of people," if the whole phrase is considered, would usually make better sense as plural.

The plural "people in the group are tall and thin" clashes with the singular "the group of people is tall and thin." But since it's the individuals who are tall and thin, I think it should be a plural construction either way or just avoid the second construction. But no such avoidance possible with "everyone."

I'm ok with a singular like "the group of people weighs 5,000 pounds and owns a hundred houses," because that would apply to the collective group, not to the individuals.
#3 - January 15, 2016, 12:23 PM

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Say I start a sentence with By late afternoon, everyone in the throne room was slumping with exhaustion... The usage here implies everyone = each and every person, i.e. every one, addressing more than one entity, but each by its singular identity. Just because English, like German, tends over time to concatenate two words into one does not mean that the underlying linguistic meaning changes.

The group of people goes... would be heard, whereas The group of people go... would usually be flagged as an error, at least by editors who focus on group rather than people.
#4 - January 16, 2016, 02:19 PM
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I'm not denying the current grammatical realities, just arguing against some of them. At this time, each and every are singular and redundant. Better, I think, that each remains singular, but every becomes plural, like all. It would simplify such awkwardness as, "everyone (each) should bring his or her ms" to, instead, "everyone (all) should bring their mss."

Is there any advantage to keeping every singular, given that each could do the job and is more intuitive to many of our intended readers?
#5 - January 16, 2016, 02:47 PM

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We usually "fix" a compound noun by its ending - bookcase is a case, strawberry is a berry. Person is misleading because it isn't compound, just a kind of convergent evolution. No sons were harmed in the making of that word. :)
#6 - January 16, 2016, 05:15 PM

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On another note, I can recall when my daughter was 3 or 4 years old and said, "goed." On her own, she had comprehended the ideas of past and present actions. Too bad, I had thought, that our English-speaking world would soon have to mess with her mind and shove in those pesky irregular verbs.

Yet, not by deliberately killing the irregular "went", but by simply allowing the logical, intuitive, ungrammatical "goed" to co-exist, the irregular would wither away within a few decades. And all verbs would be regular.

Same natural withering if "everyone" were allowed to be expressed either singularly or plurally.
#7 - January 16, 2016, 09:01 PM

Grammar does change, usually as led by common usage in speech. Since "they" recently became accepted (by some authorities) as a correct singular gender neutral pronoun, you have lived to see a fairly significant concession to common usage. It's entirely possible that "goed" will be correct in time--if enough people start using it. The same could be said of your original posit. ::-)
#8 - January 16, 2016, 09:13 PM

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Well, I'll be dog-goed!
#9 - January 16, 2016, 09:21 PM

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Grammar does change, usually as led by common usage in speech. Since "they" recently became accepted (by some authorities) as a correct singular gender neutral pronoun...
Actually as noted elswhere in the BlueBoards, their as an indefinite possessive is hardly new. Dickens has a character use it so in A Christmas Carol. It's only called "gender-neutral" today because of the current axe-grinding vis-à-vis so-called gender-identity politics.

"Leading" grammar, i.e. codifying common usage into a core grammar belongs to the Descriptivist school. The Prescriptivist school stand in opposition to that. If they hadn't been doing so, we'd all be speaking Jive or pidgin.
#10 - January 16, 2016, 10:19 PM
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"Goed" and the like is really interesting. Language learners start by simply knowing specific words - ate, ran, etc. - and then reach a point where they start to learn *rules,* at which point their mistakes multiply as they quite reasonably say eated and runned.

And yes, a gender neutral, singular "they" is nothing new. Consider the sentence (with that pesky word "anyone" in it) "If anyone calls for me, ask them what they want." We'd never put "him" or "him or her" in there.
#11 - January 17, 2016, 04:15 AM
« Last Edit: January 17, 2016, 04:16 AM by jennifer-stoner »

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Right. We're past the days when he and him also reliably and equally included she and her. I have no arguments against claims of one sex's getting preference, over the other sex, that the masculine so-called inclusive pronouns could cause.

They, them, and their are the new inclusive singulars/plurals.
#12 - January 17, 2016, 07:52 AM

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Ain't language change fun? (Seriously!) Holly and others have already pointed this out, but I'll add that singular they goes all the way back to 13th century English. It had a big year in 2015, when The Washington Post added it to their stylebook as acceptable in situations where the person being written about didn't identify with a specific gender, or in situations where rewriting the sentence was too cumbersome. The American Dialect Society made singular they their word of the year for 2015.

As to verbs, the more frequently they're used, the more likely they are to stay strong (so to speak: a strong verb makes its past tense by changing its vowel; a weak verb adds an -ed). Frequently used words like "eat" won't change quickly because we hear and use "ate" as a past tense all the time. But words like "hang" and "shine" have been in flux since Shakespeare's time: hanged/hung; shined/shone.

People who enjoy these kinds of discussions might like the blog Language Log, moderated by Univ of Pennsylvania linguist Mark Liberman.
#13 - January 17, 2016, 09:33 AM

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Rebecca, my husband gets wrapped around the axle at how "lit" is falling out of usage in favor of "lighted."  ;D  I like having both hanged and hung, and using the former for a form of execution and the latter to denote something being suspended in air. Of course, that creeps past grammar and into shades of meaning...

I happen to like having all these forms--they make the language richer in my ears.
#14 - January 17, 2016, 09:44 AM
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I'll bet you like "wrought," too, Marissa (as in, a well-wrought novel)---a fossil of the former past tense of "work." I'm all for language variety and richness, too!
#15 - January 17, 2016, 09:51 AM

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As a matter of fact, I do. We should start an endangered verb form list here and establish a preservation movement.  ;) Save the verbs!
#16 - January 17, 2016, 10:01 AM
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I happen to like having all these forms--they make the language richer in my ears.

I agree. Also, English has borrowed words and constructions from many other languages. Some of the inconsistencies we see today exist because of a word's origin. I like having that connection and history in my consciousness and ears.
#17 - January 17, 2016, 10:41 AM

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The American Dialect Society made singular "they" their word of the year for 2015.

They did! Cool beans!

Still, when an author writes their query the agent will think they know nothing about proper English because they are using "they" incorrectly, or so they will think....not being aware that "they" received such an honor from a prestigious English society.

So maybe an author should use his or her judgment, and not worry his or her head over the matter. Or better yet, she can restructure the sentence so as to avoid the whole "they" biz in the first place.
#18 - January 17, 2016, 10:51 AM

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I agree, Dionna---writers need to use good judgment about audience. Also, for the sake of clarification, the American Dialect Society chooses their (or perhaps I should say "its") word of the year on the basis of which one has been the most interesting, or influential. They're not establishing any rules about (or implying approval of) the word's use.
#19 - January 17, 2016, 10:58 AM

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Save the verbs!

Hear, hear!

I strongly prefer "lit"--please give your husband my compliments, Marissa. And I also prefer "dove"--my editor changed it to "dived"--and I die a little inside when someone "gifts" something. Why did we decide that "give" is no longer a word?  :eh2

And I wish we hadn't let "nauseated" (feeling nausea) to become interchangeable with "nauseous" (causing nausea).
#20 - January 17, 2016, 03:15 PM
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"Gifted" seems useful and shorter than "gave a gift."

Like it or not and despite the gatekeepers, eventually it's survival of the fittest words and meanings, by cultural selection.

But a big problem can be reading older works with words that have since changed meaning, e.g., livid.
#21 - January 17, 2016, 05:01 PM

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And I wish we hadn't let "nauseated" (feeling nausea) to become interchangeable with "nauseous" (causing nausea).

I became an instant fan of Brandon Mull when I saw that he used "nauseated." He probably uses "dove," too. ;)
#22 - January 17, 2016, 05:07 PM

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