Either the grill crew or the manager must give their permission for . . .

El10

Senior Member
Spanish-Colombia
This is an example from an exercise I was doing a few minutes ago:

"Directions: In the space provided, fix the underlined error."

"Either the grill crew or the manager must give their permission for you to return that half-eaten double cheeseburger."

I corrected the mistake by writing "his or her." Then I clicked on the button to check if my answer was correct, and the following message was displayed:

"His or her won't work. The manager is either a male or a female, not both. So you must choose the masculine or feminine form of the pronoun, not both."

My question is, if I say or write a sentence like the one in the example without knowing who the manager/person is, how could it be incorrect to use "his or her"?
 
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  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Many native speakers would disagree with the advice given in that exercise. Many wouldn't regard "their" as an error. Apparently, the exercise wants you to pick "his" or "her" even though you don't know the manager's gender.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    "Directions: In the space provided, fix the underlined error."

    "Either the grill crew or the manager must give their permission for you to return that half-eaten double cheeseburger."
    Surely "the grill crew" is plural, so "the grill crew or the manager" constitutes a plural subject and "their" is correct to start off with. :confused:
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    I agree with everyone who says or suggests that this is a stupid exercise. And the idea of the entire grill crew taking a vote on your half-eaten burger is somewhat ludicrous, besides being a bit time-consuming in the heat of a lunch rush. :)
     

    El10

    Senior Member
    Spanish-Colombia
    Surely "the grill crew" is plural, so "the grill crew or the manager" constitutes a plural subject and "their" is correct to start off with. :confused:
    Here is the rule:

    "If you connect two antecedents with a correlative conjunction, the second one must agree with the pronoun that follows."

    "Neither the cousins nor Yolanda expressed her disappointment when blind Aunt Sophie set down the plate of burnt hamburgers."

    Thank you very much everyone for your help.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    Here is the rule:

    "If you connect two antecedents with a correlative conjunction, the second one must agree with the pronoun that follows."

    "Neither the cousins nor Yolanda expressed her disappointment when blind Aunt Sophie set down the plate of burnt hamburgers."
    There's a lengthy previous thread, which I'm sure you'll find interesting, as from post #7 onwards it uses that very example! Here you go:

    Neither the boys nor Merry expressed her anger when they/she


    :)
     

    El10

    Senior Member
    Spanish-Colombia
    There's a lengthy previous thread, which I'm sure you'll find interesting, as from post #7 onwards it uses that very example! Here you go:

    Neither the boys nor Merry expressed her anger when they/she


    :)

    Thank you very much for your suggestion. I thought the rule I knew was correct, but the following comment regarding a similar example makes sense:

    Neither the boys nor Merry expressed (whose?) anger when (who?) heard the news.

    Here (who) has to be they, but this has nothing to do with proximity rules or second subject agreement.
    The reason it has to be they, and not she, is because it seems to be clear that all of them (the boys and Merry) heard the news.
    She would only be possible if only Merry had heard the news, but then why would the boys express anger at what they had not heard?

    Next, (whose) cannot be her, but has to be their or (ducking the issue) any, because it does not make sense that the boys should express Merry's anger. We assume the news made them all angry, but none of them expressed any anger. We assume they are not talking about someone else's anger (i.e. not Merry's).

    A huge problem arises because a plural (the boys) and a singular (Merry) are being mixed in a neither-nor clause. This is something one should always seek to avoid, by fair means or foul, because the size (which I use here to mean the quality of being either singular or plural) of the combined "neither X nor Y" item is equal to the sizes of X and Y if they are the same (i.e. if they are both singular or both plural), but is indeterminate if they are different. The size of the verb must agree with that of the subject, and so if the size of the subject is indeterminate, one cannot know whether one should use the singular or plural form of the verb, because they are both half-wrong.

    Fortunately in this example we can hide this problem because the singular and plural forms of the verb are the same ("expressed"). But it is impossible to answer the question whether the size of "expressed" is singular or plural, it is as indeterminate as the size of "neither the boys nor Merry". We could not get away with it in "Neither the boys nor Merry was/were angry", because "the boys was angry" and "Merry were angry" are both wrong.

    Using their anger also conveniently hides the problem, because we can claim that the size of their is also indeterminate. Their can function both as a plural pronoun and as a gender-neutral singular pronoun, and so regardless of whether the indeterminate size of the subject is taken to be singular or plural, their can be made to fit.

    Because of all the indeterminacies here, we can get away with Neither the boys nor Merry expressed their anger when they heard the news. But only just. Much better to avoid neither-nor.

    Say something like: When Merry and the boys heard the news, none of them expressed any anger.
    I guess I should follow this advice:

    "if the nouns/pronouns in the first part do not agree in number, place the plural noun/pronoun second and use the plural form for the final pronoun."
    But then such advice applies to only one version of the original sentence: "Either the manager or the grill crew must give their permission for you to return that half-eaten double cheeseburger," and so if the plural element in the correlative conjunction comes second, "their" would be correct after all. But I don't understand why you say the following:

    Surely "the grill crew" is plural, so "the grill crew or the manager" constitutes a plural subject and "their" is correct to start off with. :confused:
    According to one of the comments I have quoted above, it is impossible to determine whether the subject is singular or plural in these cases:

    A huge problem arises because a plural (the boys) and a singular (Merry) are being mixed in a neither-nor clause. This is something one should always seek to avoid, by fair means or foul, because the size (which I use here to mean the quality of being either singular or plural) of the combined "neither X nor Y" item is equal to the sizes of X and Y if they are the same (i.e. if they are both singular or both plural), but is indeterminate if they are different.
    Then why would "the grill crew or the manager" or "the manager or the grill crew" constitute a plural subject as you say? Isn't either option an undetermined subject?

    Also, would you agree that the following two versions of the original sentence are grammatically correct and idiomatic?

    1. Either the manager or the grill crew must give their permission for you to return that half-eaten double cheeseburger.
    2. Either the grill crew or the manager must give their permission for you to return that half-eaten double cheeseburger.
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    ... Also, would you agree that the following two versions of the original sentence are grammatically correct and idiomatic?

    1. Either the manager or the grill crew must give their permission for you to return that half-eaten double cheeseburger.
    2. Either the grill crew or the manager must give their permission for you to return that half-eaten double cheeseburger.
    Yes.

    There's no better option if you want to use a possessive.

    Maybe the best option of all would be to omit the possessive and say "give permission";).
     

    El10

    Senior Member
    Spanish-Colombia
    Yes.

    There's no better option if you want to use a possessive.

    Maybe the best option of all would be to omit the possessive and say "give permission";).
    Thank you very much for your suggestion, Loob.:)
     
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