Friday, May 20, 2011

Your Opinion, Please

I have two questions.  Feel free to chime in whether or not you qualify as a grammar nerd. 

#1:  What's wrong with this picture?

#2:  Do you suspect the error was missed by editors or intentionally overlooked?  Explain your reasoning.  (I will share my own opinion after I hear from some of you!)


Angie B. said...

Should be "him," not "them." Probably intentional...wouldn't want to offend the lady renters!

Susan said...

I'm not a member of the "Grammar Police" so I have no idea what is wrong with it. According to the fine print should be "her" instead of "them." (as Angie indicated). My conclusion is that is should say "RENTER" and not"RENTER'S" because it is speaking specifically of one renter not many. But you tell me ...I wasn't an English major. : )

Susan said...

BTW my previous statement ... I think I need a comma after "renter" and before "not many"! Ugh, now I'm paranoid about posting comments on your site! : )

Christopher Esget said...

It's a myth that "they" cannot be used as a third person singular pronoun. Shakespeare did it, as did Austen. Check this article here:

Randy S. said...

@Christopher: Thanks for your link to the "Singular they". Wow! I am a neophyte in the Grammar Police, and had no idea about the generic and singular use of "they". It has ALWAYS been plural to me. You have expanded my horizon. One comment from the Wikipedia, "Though singular they is widespread in everyday English and has a long history of usage, debate continues about its acceptability." This I would agree with, similar to the widespread of "ain't", the whole Eubonics thing, etc. Widespread usage doesn't make it right, it just makes it widespread. But from now on, I will not challenge noun-verb singular-plural agreement if "they" is involved!

Lori Shaffer said...

Susan, Welcome to the world of paranoia! The "Renter's" is correct because it is singular that part is fine.

Angie nailed it. The plural pronoun "them" does not agree with its singular antecedent "renter's". Although it's possible that the ad execs missed it, I think it's more likely that they chose, as Angie indicated, to use "them" in order to avoid the generic "him" which is STANDARD usage. If they choose "him" they risk alienating their women customers...but if they choose the politically correct "her," they likely lose the impact for their predominantly male clientele. Just a hunch.

Christopher, hmmm. I checked out the link, as well as many other sites which address the use of singular they. First of all, I am trying to be open-minded...but none of these sites offered any authoritative word. If we appeal to accomplished authors to justify our syntax, we would have to scrap a significant portion of our grammar rules! The best authors can use sentence fragments to great effect or create previously non-existent words or distort many of the rules in ways that work. That does NOT however, make it grammatically correct. As in all disciplines, rules govern the use of language or art or architecture, etc. One who has mastered the rules and who has become skilled and mature in their use, CAN bend and break them with delightful results. But we must not appeal to them as an authority on what is CORRECT.

Not one of my 22 Grammar BOOKS - which range from Elementary to College level...and were published between 1895 and 2003 - not ONE of them acknowledges the Singular "they" as a logical, legitimate grammatical form.

NOW...having said that...I don't believe we have to be uptight sticklers for all the rules in everyday conversation. Folks end their sentences with prepositions all the time in daily conversation. That doesn't make them stupid (in and of itself ;-), but neither does it sanction such use as correct grammar.

Don't know if I made myself clear...I could have written a whole post in response! Thanks for the challenge. I may eventually see it differently, but for now...I still contend that there is no such thing as singular they.

Alicia said...

"Widespread usage doesn't make it right..."

Actually, yes it does. Grammar books didnt fall from heaven. They are descriptive before they are prescriptive. Humans make languege, not the other way around. So: while the grammar books continue to dispute the propriety of the singular "they" for formal writing, it is perfectly grammatical otherwise. Formal writing standards always lag behind the vigorous and lively creativity of spoken grammar. I consider the poster to be somewhere in between spoken, informal grammar and formal, written grammar. So I suppose it would depend on the intended audience and desires of the company which pronoun they want to use.

Lori Shaffer said...

Actually, no it doesn't. Humans DO make language, but syntax is not primarily based on popular usage. Grammar is LOGIC based, and therefore does not change ARBITRARILY based on popularity. No. No. No. Sorry,'re just wrong on this one. :-)

OK, well...we disagree. Have you read Richard Mitchell? Perhaps you should.

Alicia said...

I'll read Richard Mitchell. Can you sum up what you mean by language being logic-based?

Alicia said...

As another point of interest, your claim that the singular use of "they" by Shakespeare, et al (including Chaucer, Dickens, Austen, and more, btw) is a case of masters bending the rules for poetic reasons seems spurious to me. There are logical reasons for the usage which compel its near universal usage today among people of all levels of English mastery. The logical reason is the lack of a singular gender neutral pronoun in English. "They" is a natural candidate.

Additionally, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) "already finds the singular they acceptable 'even in literary and formal contexts,'" and disapproval of this usage only began in the mid-18th century, according to this source.

Alicia said...

However, I honestly don't have a dog in this fight. I go back and forth between a more prescriptive view and a more descriptive view. I can see both angles. In this particular thread, nobody was voicing the descriptive view, so I thought I would be a contrarian. :-)

My real opinion is that since English has no neuter singular pronoun, we have to pick something. It seems that the acceptable pronoun for third person singular neuter is in flux. At one time it was "they," then "they" was rejected and "he" was accepted around the mid-18th century. Now we're in the midst of a politically correct milieu that makes it hard to judge. "He" might be thought sexist. "He/she" and "He or she" are clumsy and wordy. (And both drive me crazy!) "They" is widely (universally?) acceptable spoken English, so "they" is an attractive candidate for written English, as long as the setting isn't too formal. (I would advise against using it in an academic paper, unless you like red marks on your work.) In our weird history of struggling for a gender-neutral singular pronoun, failed attempts to invent new pronouns seem to indicate that eventually, widespread usage will settle on one of the already existing pronouns, and grammar books will follow by acknowledging it. It's possible that "he" may be on its way out, and the tide may be turning in favor of "they." Time will tell.

I understand that "they" doesn't agree in number, but logic never applies rigidly in language. Double negatives are perfectly good grammar in other languages. So if "they" gains formal acceptance, it will merely be noted that it is both the plural third person pronoun and the neuter, third person singular. Context will clarify which it is, as context so often does. No big deal.

I think the creators of the poster were probably being perfectly logical and intentional in their use of the singular "they" as a neuter pronoun. Unlike so many folks who carelessly or ignorantly use apostrophes to form plurals. Either that, or they do it just to irritate me. ;-)