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    #1

    Their mouth/mouths

    Which is "correct": Everybody should open their MOUTH when they see injustice./ Everybody should open their MOUTHS when they see injustice. Thank you.


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    #2

    Re: Their mouth/mouths

    Quote Originally Posted by TheParser View Post
    Which is "correct": Everybody should open their MOUTH when they see injustice./ Everybody should open their MOUTHS when they see injustice. Thank you.
    Everybody has only one mouth. Do not be mislead by the gender-neutral 'their' determiner.

  1. kfredson's Avatar

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    #3

    Re: Their mouth/mouths

    Quote Originally Posted by TheParser View Post
    Which is "correct": Everybody should open their MOUTH when they see injustice./ Everybody should open their MOUTHS when they see injustice. Thank you.
    Well, you've just raised one of the stickiest problems in English grammar. I see it almost everyday. According to standard grammar, as I understand it, neither of these sentences is correct. Everybody is singular and requires a singular pronoun. Hence, you would have to say, "Everybody should open his mouth when he sees injustice." After all, you can't say "Everybody are here," so clearly everybody requires a singular verb and singular possessive pronoun.

    That is what we read in on sites such as this, or, more definitively, this.

    There is a problem with this, though. How do we avoid the continual use of the male pronoun? Do we write the ugly, "Everybody should open his/her mouth when he/she sees injustice"? Or should we simply alternate, using his one time and her the next?

    The other problem is that we will frequently hear a sentence such as, "Everybody (or everyone) was standing around with their mouths open." Maybe this sounded funny once, but does it really bother people today? We picture the crowd of people and clearly there are multiple mouths.

    The result is that I am confused. Generally I encourage students to avoid such constructions by finding another way to say it. But I would be eager to hear what others have to say about this knotty (and, for me, confusing) issue.

    Thanks for bringing it up.


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    #4

    Re: Their mouth/mouths

    Three main ways of avoiding gender bias have been adopted in recent decades in the English language:

    1. Use of coordinated pronouns
    This device can become rather clumsy through repetition. In actual practice, this strategy is restricted primarily to academic writing.

    2. Use of plural instead of singular
    The use of they referring back to a singular personal noun or pronoun is common in conversation. In serious writing, however, it is often avoided as 'incorrect', because a commonly accepted 'rule' of pronoun concord states that the pronoun should agree in number and gender with its antecedent. There is, however, a growing adoption of this use of 'they.

    3. Using the plural throughout
    It is usually possible, but not always.

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    #5

    Re: Their mouth/mouths

    In formal writing, I've always seen some kind of disclaimer. For example,

    In this book or essay I'll be using the pronouns he and she to refer to someone in general. The examples given do not reflect any gender differences and can be applied to either man or woman.

    Or something to that extent. And then the book or essay alternates between he and she throughout the text. I think this is the safest bet for formal writing or if you have an educated audience that might see 'their' or 'they' as wrong.

    In reality, there is no real substitute for 'their' or 'they' as the gender neutral pronoun, so in casual use these are just fine. Despite what some boring grammar book or grammarian might have to say about it, these are in wide use (you can see it on every Facebook status update) and so are perfectly acceptable for casual use.

  2. Raymott's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: Their mouth/mouths

    Actually, I don't think the gender-engendered invention of the singular 'they' was raised at all. The point was about singular or plural mouths
    (though the comments on gender are valid).

    The question can be rephrased thus: Is it:
    Every man in the choir opened his mouth to sing.
    or
    Every man in the choir opened their mouths to sing.

    where I have substituted "Every man" for the OP's "Everybody".

    I think from this it is more obvious that "their mouth" is correct, as Kondorosi implied.

  3. kfredson's Avatar

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    #7

    Re: Their mouth/mouths

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    Actually, I don't think the gender-engendered invention of the singular 'they' was raised at all. The point was about singular or plural mouths
    (though the comments on gender are valid).

    The question can be rephrased thus: Is it:
    Every man in the choir opened his mouth to sing.
    or
    Every man in the choir opened their mouths to sing.

    where I have substituted "Every man" for the OP's "Everybody".

    I think from this it is more obvious that "their mouth" is correct, as Kondorosi implied.
    This is a very useful way to look at the problem but I disagree with the conclusion. "Every" takes the singular. Every flower in the meadow opens its petals. Each flower can only open its own petals.


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    #8

    Re: Their mouth/mouths

    Every flower in the meadow opens its (several) petals.
    Everyone in the meadow opens his or her (one) mouth.

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    #9

    Re: Their mouth/mouths

    Thank you to everyone for HIS REPLY (?). I shall try to consistently say, "Everyone opened their mouth." I do not have the courage (?) to say, "Everybody opened his mouth." (By the way, a popular usage book by an American woman advises us to say either "his X" or "her X." She has no truck with "their.") I, however, will definitely use "their" out of respect to both genders. In writing, of course, -- as suggested by one poster -- I shall have time to rephrase my idea in a more elegant manner. Thank you again.

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