Everyone, everybody - singular or plural? ... everyone please shut their mouth(s)


Didn't know how to better name this thread but it's a question that has been going around my mind for a while now and should be easy for you to answer.

To demonstrate you my problem see the following example:

The teacher in class is very upset with his students. Thus he asks them: 'Could everybody please shut their mouth(s?).

Well, I'd like to know whether in this case the nown at the end has to be plural or not. My uncertainty arises from the way English speakers avoid to say 'his/her' by shifting the form into plural. Well, that's at least how it was once explained to me. Can you confirm that and if, do I have to change the nown - in this case 'mouth' likewise?

Thanks for your help.

  • Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    A teacher in Australia would not say "shut their mouths".
    In Australia "shut your mouth" is not polite, and teachers do not speak impolitely to their students.

    However, they could say "Could everybody please close their mouths."
    The teacher is more likely to say "Could everybody please be quiet."

    It's not shifting to the plural to avoid saying his/her.
    If the class were all girls, it would still be "their".

    In normal spoken English everybody is matched to a singluar verb, but in other respects treated like a plural.

    "Does everybody have their hats?"

    Much the same for everyone.

    If you said, to a class of all girls, "Could everybody please close her mouth" it would sound like an instruction to force one girl to close her mouth.


    Senior Member
    English - United States
    Your example sentence has a structure that I would be very unlikely to use. I would say "Could you all please shut your mouths?" or, less likely "Could everybody shut your mouths?"

    However, as an attempt to address your core point, if you're going to use the akward structure (I don't; it just sounds too akward) of substituting "their" for "his", "her", or "his or her", the noun will probably be singular - "each student will return their book to the library". (clearly it would be books the individual students have more than one book apiece, but it doesn't become plural just because you're using "their")

    Certainly, I'm open to correction on this, as I can't tell you what a hard time I've had coming up with example sentences.


    New Member
    English, USA
    I am not sure how this differs between English-speaking countries, but for American English it is the same as Brioche said. Words such as 'everybody, everyone, all' are "collective verbs".

    "Everyone, shut your mouth." - When addressing a group or body and everyone in that group or body.

    I could be wrong, but in the United States the above example would be the most widely-accepted, correct method of saying it.


    Senior Member
    English (AE)
    There are two different issues built into your question. And different "authorities" will disagree.
    1. English has no neuter pronoun. Technically, in the most formal writing, words such as "each" and "everyone" are singular, while "all" is plural. This allows for subtle differences of expression, wihch to me, is part of the beautiy of language. Thus: "Each of my children is a good student" is subtly different from "All of my children are good students" even though they both really say the same thing.
    In the same way, Everyone is good is different from All are good..

    In addition, historically, in English, the masculine pronoun covers both genders. So people who spoke correctly used to say things like: Everyone must raise his hand.
    Then came "women's liberation" complaining (perhaps with good reason) about sexism. So people start saying ". . . his or her hand." Unfortunately this is cumbersome and tiring.

    So to get around this, the most common usage in conversational speech (including, unfortunately, speeches delivered by powerful people in high offices--I won't say who, but think about trees and bushes) is: Everyone raise their . . . .. Technically, this is not correct, but in practice, thos is how most people speak English and only the most fanatical, anal-retentive English purist would get upset about it.

    Lastly, you can say "Everyone raise their hand" or "Everyone raise their hands"; both are correct in English. (Now in Spanish, for each student to raise one hand, the teacher uses the singular; the plural would imply that each student should raise two hands--but not in English.).

    Hope this helps. It's confusing, in part, because there are no absolute, unchangeable rules of grammar. And while some things are absolutely wrong (for a given country at a given time in history) other things are in flux.


    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    I just caught up to this thread, so my apologies for bringing it back to those who are 'done' with it...

    The question Stefan_82 brings up is important, although the examples so far have been less commonplace, in my opinion...

    I have a friend who calls such 'misapplications' of genderless plural pronouns the FALSE PLURAL OF AMBIGUITY... which I think has a nice ring to it! ;)

    The interesting thing is that English speakers have been using this tactic for centuries to avoid fencing in a 'his' or 'her' gender, when they really mean 'everyone'.

    In formal writing, we have been urged to use 'one' to fill the gender-neutral gap left in the singular pronoun list. (Plural pronouns are always gender neutral.) But this sounds a bit 'over the top' for everyday speech.

    Wikipedia has an article called Singular they that discusses the use of 'they' in such cases...

    Anyway, lunch time and I must go! ;)



    Senior Member
    American English
    boonognog said:
    The interesting thing is that English speakers have been using this tactic for centuries to avoid fencing in a 'his' or 'her' gender, when they really mean 'everyone'.

    Oh, Tim, you child!
    I'm not sure you've been around long enough to believe that most authors for centuries have had no cares about whether or not they fenced in the male gender--only the female gender! (No, I'm not a Feminazi), but I've lived long enough to know that many female writers had to use men's names in order to be published. Remember, women haven't even had the voice to vote yet for 100 years in the US of A! Because of the awkwardness of "One must hold the dessert fork thus with one's left hand," and, "Would each student please take out his/her pencil out of his/her notebook...." Well, you get the picture. There are authors who will keep or move things to plural to assuage the masses of both genders. No one wants to read things that are offensive to some, and legubrious to others just because they are filled with curicues that dance around the gender issue. If they are writing, they will do so because they want to be read. Instead of putting the reader through all sorts of gyrations to comprehend what they've read, authors will go through them themselves--to make themselves as widely-read as possible. One of those methods is to pluralize pronouns. And until someone makes a hard-and-fast rule about their hands and their mouths, authors are glad there's some wiggle room for their toes in the language so that they can pretend sometimes they're barefoot while constructing a story.


    boonognog said:
    The interesting thing is that English speakers have been using this tactic for centuries to avoid fencing in a 'his' or 'her' gender, when they really mean 'everyone'.

    mjscott said:
    I'm not sure you've been around long enough to believe that most authors for centuries have had no cares about whether or not they fenced in the male gender--
    But Tim didn't mention "authors" - he wrote of "speakers", and it is true that centuries-old laws and bye-laws, official signs and notices have used 'their' in this way.


    Southeastern United States
    Back in the mid-1970s there was a push to introduce some new gender neutral pronouns into English like this ...

    Masculine Feminine Neuter
    He She Te
    His Her Tes
    Him Her Tem
    Himself Herself Temself

    It never caught on ... :rolleyes:
    DaleC said:
    "finding gender neutral pronouns". (Not "things".)
    Also, try not to split the infinitive 'to name' when using an adverb, 'better'

    Didn't know how better to name this thread. Or to avoid this altogether -

    Didn't know a better way to name this thread. Or 'Didn't know a better way of naming this thread.' Or 'Didn't know the best way to name this thread.'

    Here 'better' and 'best' become adjectives describing the word 'way'.

    Ah! The vagaries of the English language. German too!:)



    Senior Member
    English (AE)
    You can probably tell that I'm a language nut, and do not like seeing it abused. However, I take issue with your "rule." This was decreed in England at a time when the scholars felt that Greek and Latin should be models for us. The fallacious logic was that English is a Latin language (it isn't, it's classified as Germanic, though there's a lot of Latin influence, from French, becuase of William the Conqueror), and since you don't split the infinitive in Latin, youi shouldn't in English.

    The first problem si that English isn't a Latin language. The second is that you don't split it in Latin because you can't in Latin. Using Spanish (a Latin language) as an example, you can't say " Habl-despacio-ar". No tiene ningún sentido en español.

    Nevertheless, since this is a translation forum, I would say to those whose English is not fluent, paying attention to your post is a good idea. It is neer wrong to not split the infinitive [Yes, the phrase in bold is a split infinitive.] It will alwasy sound correct.

    However, be aware that the opposite is not incorrect either. In the famous "Star Trek" TV series (the original one), the introductory narration says ". . .to boldly go where no man has gone before." If you have a feel for the English language, you know that neither "to go boldly" nor "boldly to go" has the same impact.

    I just wanted to briefly express, to clearly explain, to succinctly clarify, to elegantly elucidate, and to once-and-for-all establish, the difference between what is not a bad guideline, but what is definitely NOT (in my opinion) an inviolable rule--neither in Great Britain nor across the Pond.
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