Many writers have trouble selecting the right pronouns when they are writing about a specific group or individual members of that group.
You should always use singular pronouns for singular nouns. Really. A breed of dog is singular, as is a company. If you are writing about a pet monkey, the pet monkey can be referred to as “he” or “she” . . . or even “it”. The monkey won’t mind. But your editor (who may or may not be a monkey) will mind if you refer to the monkey as “they.”
- A pet monkey can be very high maintanence. It will live a long time.
- Pet monkeys can be very high-maintanence creatures. They also live a long time.
- A pet monkey can be very high maintenance. They can live a long time.
Another faux-pas in the writing world is using the pronoun “one,” when you should be using “he” or “she.” Using “one” is old fashioned and stuffy sounding, as in:
- When one is out calling, one must leave calling cards.
Use “he” or “she” “he/she” can be cumbersome; the reader will forgive you for choosing one or the other in order to sound up-to-date on writing trends. (“They” is becoming more accepted, but it still rankles to prescriptivists.) If you’re addressing the audience, it’s also perfectly acceptable to refer to your reader as “you.” This sounds personable and makes your article accessible to the reader.
- A quilter will want to make sure she chooses a pattern before selecting fabrics.
- The favorite political candidate may not always win. He may have to wait until next term to run for office again.
- Your poodle will need proper grooming. Have a sweater handy if she must go outside in cold weather. (Or, to revisit the idea in the first part of this post: A snake is a popular pet. It will not keep you warm at night, but it it will amaze you with its ability to swallow live rats whole.)
- What do you do in the event of a food shortage? Do you stockpile food, grow your own vegetables, or take to the streets and join your community in a riot?
If you have any questions about using pronouns, please ask in the forum, and our friendly community of writers and editors will answer them or point you in the direction of resources that will help you with your own writing.
Interested in more tips like this? Check out the Content Writer’s Guide to Grammar, Punctuation and Structure.