Facebook, Stop Promoting Pronoun-Antecedent Disagreement



Oh grammar, you tricky beast. Even though I spend my days getting paid to edit other people’s writing for these little problems, even I need to double check the more complicated rules from time to time. It’s easy to slip up and make little mistakes like a misplaced comma here or there, but there are certain rules that we should always be getting right. And now, it seems that even the social media behemoth is now getting one of those major ones wrong.


It makes me blush at the nerdiness of a post title like this one, but friends? Pronoun-antecedent agreement (complicated as it may sound) is one of the more basic rules you learn in writing. When you’re using a pronoun (he, she, it, his, hers, theirs) it refers to something earlier in the sentence (Max, Susan, that girl, your classmates). That thing earlier in the sentence? It’s called the antecedent.

So let’s say we’re talking about Vin Diesel. I’ll wait while you finish oogling his biceps and liking his page on facebook (seriously, you won’t regret it).

If Vin Diesel is updating a cover photo, we would say HE updated HIS cover photo because he is a singular man, and the pronoun referring to him must agree in number to the antecedent (in this case, Vin, or Dom Toretto if you prefer). If we were talking about the whole cast of The Fast and The Furious (RIP Paul), we would say THEY updated THEIR cover photos because in this case, the antecedent (the whole cast of the movie) is a plural, or a group of people.

In gender-sensitive times, it’s become popular to use THEY or THEIR incorrectly when referring to a generic singular word like “a student” to avoid being accused of gender discrimination by limiting the sentence to women or men, but the easy way to avoid this problem is to pluralize the sentence and say students/their. And I get what Facebook is doing. They’re attempting to be gender neutral, and I applaud their efforts in instituting new categories of genders to select. However, with all the technology out there, can’t they script their application to select the gender appropriate pronoun based on the person’s profile selection rather than defaulting to the plural THEIR?

We all have a tough enough time remembering those little grammar rules as it is. We don’t need social media to subconsciously reinforce the wrong rules all day when we scroll through our news feeds, even if we do get to look at Vin Diesel while we’re doing it.  


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