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  1. #1
    Anonymous Guest

    their/our + singular/plural noun

    I have some inquiries about the choice of noun form (singular or plural) to be used with a plural possessive determiners (their, our, etc.) I have sought the advice of some native speakers on the following 4 sentences only to become more confused as they have different opinions. It is really really frustrating.

    1a. There are many cells in *our body*.
    1b. There are many cells in *our bodies*.

    2a. We do this in *our everyday life*.
    2b. We do this in *our everyday lives*.

    A Canadian native speaker and a reply from ASKOXFORD advised that only (1b) and (2b) are correct.
    An American professor of English advised that I should use (1a) and (2a) to 'avoid the problem of thinking that we have more than one body apiece' and likewise with 'life'.
    A reply from Englishclub.com advised that all four are acceptable.

    Whose opinion is correct or more reliable? The professor's?
    Is there such a thing as 'the ultimate authority' in English from which/whom I can seek advice? Please help.

    I have seen the use of plural possessive determiners with singular noun in some books and on the Net. So does that make such use acceptable?


    In Longman Dictionary of Common Errors (Turton & Heaton, 1996), there is this sentence:
    1. This example shows how computers affect *our everyday life*. (pg 122)


    In Collins Cobuild English Dictionary for Advanced Learners (3rd ed, 2001):
    1. All of us in *our daily life* react favourably to people who take us and our
    views seriously. (pg 377)

    2. ...*our body's* sensory system (pg 1411)

    3. People also use 'heart' to refer to the area of *their chest* that is closest
    to *their heart*. (pg 725)


    In Biology; The Unity and Diversity of Life (10th ed., Starr & Taggart, 2003, Thomson Brooks/Cole):
    1. Tuataras are like modern amphibians in some respects of *their brain* and in their way of walking. (pg 457).
    2. Chameleons rely on *their tongue*, which is longer than *their body*. (pg 456)


    On the Net, at the website of SocietyGuardian.co.uk:
    1. People wait for years,decades, in pain, in the faint hope that one day they will receive the call from the hospital that will return *their life* to normal.

    2. It assumes that change is difficult without reference to the subject's family, school, and - for priests - transition to the seminary, their experiences there and *their life* as *a priest*.

    Michael Swan's Practical English Usage says that for generalisations and rules, it is OK to use singular or plural nouns or both together with 'their/our'. So, is it applicable here?

    Thank you.
    Ryan

  2. #2
    RonBee's Avatar
    RonBee is offline Moderator
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    1a. There are many cells in *our body*.
    1b. There are many cells in *our bodies*.
    Only the second one is acceptable. (We do not share a body.)

    2a. We do this in *our everyday life*.
    2b. We do this in *our everyday lives*.
    Only the second one is acceptable. (We do not share a life any more than we share a body.)

    A Canadian native speaker and a reply from ASKOXFORD advised that only (1b) and (2b) are correct.
    They are both right. They gave good advice.

    An American professor of English advised that I should use (1a) and (2a) to 'avoid the problem of thinking that we have more than one body apiece' and likewise with 'life'.
    The original nutty professor, perhaps? :wink:

    A reply from Englishclub.com advised that all four are acceptable.
    Perhaps that person did not understand the question.

    Michael Swan's Practical English Usage says that for generalisations and rules, it is OK to use singular or plural nouns or both together with 'their/our'.
    Some people use their in some cases instead of using he or he or she. That creates a problem of noun/verb agreement, but it does solve another problem that they think is a greater one. Otherwise, there is no reason to use their or our with a singular verb.

    :)

  3. #3
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    Re: their/our + singular/plural noun

    Whose opinion is correct or more reliable? The professor's?
    Is there such a thing as 'the ultimate authority' in English from which/whom I can seek advice? Please help.
    I am the ultimate authority. :wink:

    I have seen the use of plural possessive determiners with singular nouns in some books and on the Net. So does that make such use acceptable?
    It depends on who you are talking to.

    In the Longman Dictionary of Common Errors (Turton & Heaton, 1996), there is this sentence:
    1. This example shows how computers affect *our everyday life*. (pg 122)
    *our everyday lives*

    In Collins Cobuild English Dictionary for Advanced Learners (3rd ed, 2001):
    1. All of us in *our daily life* react favourably to people who take us and our
    views seriously. (pg 377)
    *our daily lives

    . ...*our body's* sensory system (pg 1411)
    I would prefer the body's there.

    3. People also use 'heart' to refer to the area of *their chest* that is closest
    to *their heart*. (pg 725)
    Say: the chest and the heart.

    In Biology; The Unity and Diversity of Life (10th ed., Starr & Taggart, 2003, Thomson Brooks/Cole):
    1. Tuataras are like modern amphibians in some respects of *their brain* and in their way of walking. (pg 457).
    Say: "The tuatera is like modern amphibians in some aspects of its brain and in its way of walking."

    2. Chameleons rely on *their tongue*, which is longer than *their body*. (pg 456)
    Say: "The chameleon relies on its tongue, which is longer than its body."

    On the Net, at the website of SocietyGuardian.co.uk:
    1. People wait for years,decades, in pain, in the faint hope that one day they will receive the call from the hospital that will return *their life* to normal.
    *their lives*

    2. It assumes that change is difficult without reference to the subject's family, school, and - for priests - transition to the seminary, their experiences there and *their life* as *a priest*.
    *their lives as priests*

    Michael Swan's Practical English Usage says that for generalisations and rules, it is OK to use singular or plural nouns or both together with 'their/our'. So, is it applicable here?
    You should at the very least be consistent. And don't use their with a singular noun when it is not necessary.

  4. #4
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    1a. There are many cells in *our body*.
    1b. There are many cells in *our bodies*.

    2a. We do this in *our everyday life*.
    2b. We do this in *our everyday lives*.
    Look at the whole sentence, not just the noun phrase.

    In 1a. 'our body' expresses one body in general (i.e. The Human Body), whereas in 1b. 'our bodies' expresses individual bodies (i.e. mine, yours, etc.)

    In 2a. 'our everyday life' expresses life as a whole in general, whereas in 2b. 'our everyday lives' expresses individual lives (i.e. mine, yours, etc.)

    When Michael Swan wrote 'generalizations', he meant all generalizations, not just those relating to gender (i.e. they = s/he).

    Englishclub.com. apparently not only understood the question, it also knows its stuff. :)

  5. #5
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    I'm one of the people who happily use 'their' for the singular when the gender is unknown or unimportant. I can't be bothered with 'he or she' and think that using the masculine as the default doesn't make much sense.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by tdol
    I'm one of the people who happily use 'their' for the singular when the gender is unknown or unimportant. I can't be bothered with 'he or she' and think that using the masculine as the default doesn't make much sense.
    I believe you are consistent also.

    :D

  7. #7
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Yep. And I don't worry about other people using different ways of handling the issue.

  8. #8
    jwschang Guest

    Re: their/our + singular/plural noun

    Quote Originally Posted by EMAIL REMOVED - Send PM to This User Instead
    I have some inquiries about the choice of noun form (singular or plural) to be used with a plural possessive determiners (their, our, etc.) I have sought the advice of some native speakers on the following 4 sentences only to become more confused as they have different opinions. It is really really frustrating.

    1a. There are many cells in *our body*.
    1b. There are many cells in *our bodies*.

    2a. We do this in *our everyday life*.
    2b. We do this in *our everyday lives*.

    A Canadian native speaker and a reply from ASKOXFORD advised that only (1b) and (2b) are correct.
    An American professor of English advised that I should use (1a) and (2a) to 'avoid the problem of thinking that we have more than one body apiece' and likewise with 'life'.
    A reply from Englishclub.com advised that all four are acceptable.

    Whose opinion is correct or more reliable? The professor's?
    Is there such a thing as 'the ultimate authority' in English from which/whom I can seek advice? Please help.

    I have seen the use of plural possessive determiners with singular noun in some books and on the Net. So does that make such use acceptable?


    In Longman Dictionary of Common Errors (Turton & Heaton, 1996), there is this sentence:
    1. This example shows how computers affect *our everyday life*. (pg 122)


    In Collins Cobuild English Dictionary for Advanced Learners (3rd ed, 2001):
    1. All of us in *our daily life* react favourably to people who take us and our
    views seriously. (pg 377)

    2. ...*our body's* sensory system (pg 1411)

    3. People also use 'heart' to refer to the area of *their chest* that is closest
    to *their heart*. (pg 725)


    In Biology; The Unity and Diversity of Life (10th ed., Starr & Taggart, 2003, Thomson Brooks/Cole):
    1. Tuataras are like modern amphibians in some respects of *their brain* and in their way of walking. (pg 457).
    2. Chameleons rely on *their tongue*, which is longer than *their body*. (pg 456)


    On the Net, at the website of SocietyGuardian.co.uk:
    1. People wait for years,decades, in pain, in the faint hope that one day they will receive the call from the hospital that will return *their life* to normal.

    2. It assumes that change is difficult without reference to the subject's family, school, and - for priests - transition to the seminary, their experiences there and *their life* as *a priest*.

    Michael Swan's Practical English Usage says that for generalisations and rules, it is OK to use singular or plural nouns or both together with 'their/our'. So, is it applicable here?

    Thank you.
    Ryan
    I would agree with Michael Swan. All 4 sentences do make sense, and the difference, if any, does not matter.

    At the same time, if I had to choose, I would agree with the American Professor and the various examples you extracted. Provided it is applicable in the context of the sentence, I think the use of the singular noun with the plural possessive determiner in a "motherhood" statement is better. It makes it quite clear that we are stating a generalisation.

    Sometimes, trying to "match" singular with singular, or plural with plural, loses sight of the meaning of the statement. :wink:

  9. #9
    jwschang Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by tdol
    Yep. And I don't worry about other people using different ways of handling the issue.
    I believe that many texts (dictionaries, educational publications) tend to give descriptions or explanations using the first person plural. The use of We and Our establishes a good communication link between the writer/speaker and the reader/listener, an especially useful psychological intimacy to close the knowledge or understanding gap. It also sounds more personal than the "impersonal" third party, or the perhaps oppositional ''I-you" tone.

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