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    #1

    Using they in a singular sentence?

    "China recognized that those policies were not productive and they began to open up. China started reforming their economy after the 1980s and constitute a policy of opening up to the outside world; because of that, their economy has been rejuvenated and growing every since."

    Can you use they in these two sentences and why?

  1. Monticello's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Using they in a singular sentence?

    Quote Originally Posted by stonecold View Post
    "China recognized that those policies were not productive and they began to open up. China started reforming their economy after the 1980s and constitute a policy of opening up to the outside world; because of that, their economy has been rejuvenated and growing every since."

    Can you use they in these two sentences and why?
    Hi stonecold,

    The personal pronoun, "they," refers, of course, to a group of people. And in the context of your passage, "they" obviously refers back to "China." So the question here is: Is "China" -- in this context -- really a group of people? - Well, yes. But taking the reference to its logical conclusion, this sentence would then have to mean that all of the people of China recognized that policies "were not productive, and began to open up."

    The above italicized phrase is probably not what the writer clearly intends.

    The solution? - More specificity with exactly who in China "recognized that policies were not productive, and began to open up." - Perhaps the Chinese government? If so, then:
    The Chinese government recognized that those policies were not productive, and they it began (instead) to open up. China started reforming its economy after the 1980s, and constitute instituted a policy of opening up to the outside world; because of that, their its economy has been rejuvenated and growing every since.

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    #3

    Re: Using they in a singular sentence?

    Besides, the word "they" is taking on more and more meanings these days... it even functions in American English as a singular genderless subsitute for he or she... so if that's becoming common, we can hardly be surprised when it refers by inference to a group of people also referred to explicitly as "China", as Monty points out.

    I find it a clumsy usage here, but I wouldn't say it's wrong outright. The Brits even use "they" with singular nouns like "the team" and so on.... so we can't call THEM wrong, can we?

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    #4

    Re: Using they in a singular sentence?

    Beautifull explanation, thankz you, I love this site.

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    #5

    Re: Using they in a singular sentence?

    bbb
    Quote Originally Posted by konungursvia
    Besides, the word "they" is taking on more and more meanings these days... it even functions in American English as a singular genderless subsitute for he or she... so if that's becoming common, we can hardly be surprised when it refers by inference to a group of people also referred to explicitly as "China", as Monty points out.
    Yes, konungursvia. But let's not confuse the issue here in regard to stonecold's question: It's true that, in regard to questions of pronouns and number agreement (please see the previous link for a brief discussion on that related usage issue), the use of they is in fact gaining wider acceptance in American English. Your point is well taken in this regard.

    stonecold's question, given the context of the quote provided however, is not about number agreement, per se, but about the appropriate (and logical) use of the pronoun, they, as a referent for China.

    Carrying the pronoun and number agreement usage issue into this context clouds the issue.

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    #6

    Re: Using they in a singular sentence?

    As the OP's title is "Using they in a singular sentence" I disagree that it is not about number agreement, and find my contribution adds further elucidation to the matter. But thanks for your opinion, it's always welcome.

  5. Soup's Avatar
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    #7

    Re: Using they in a singular sentence?

    Quote Originally Posted by stonecold View Post
    "China recognized that those policies were not productive and they began to open up.
    Using they in that context is awkward, and here's the reason why. Pronouns refer back to the closest noun, which means they in your example refers back to those policies. It's not until we, the readers, get tothe phrase to open up that we realize they doesn't refer to those policies but rather refers to China. It is for that reason that they is awkward in that particular context. The reader has to go back and read the sentence again. That's not good.

    Quote Originally Posted by stonecold View Post
    China started reforming their economy after the 1980s and constitute a policy of opening up to the outside world; because of that, their economy has been rejuvenated and growing every since."
    It has a nice ring to it. The other option, singular its in its economy, refers to a thing, a country, or to the collective running that country--the government, whereas plural their in their economy being far more personal, expresses, at least to me, a collective cooperative among(st) the Chinese government and her people, and it is for that very reason that I like it. It reflects the new China; however, from a grammatical point of view, it's certainly not what speakers expect to hear or read.

    It's not that readers expect a singular noun to have a singular pronoun, as in China started reforming its ..., but rather that a non-personal noun, such as the name of a country, has a non-personal pronoun, its. Which isn't to say that their is ungrammatical as a non-personal pronoun (e.g., Deer and their kind). On the contrary, China ... their economy is a perfect example of how writers use language to reflect change. Keep in mind though, that most writers would explain their use of a new form, first.

    In short, whether China ... their economy is grammatical or not all depends on how it sits with your audience--After all, they are the final critic. The problem, though, is that you won't know how they feel about it until it's published or submitted. So, my advice to you is this: either explain your terms or use the conventional form, China ... its economy. It's up to you.

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    #8

    Re: Using they in a singular sentence?

    Good answer, soup.

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    #9

    Re: Using they in a singular sentence?

    Quote Originally Posted by konungursvia View Post
    I find it a clumsy usage here, but I wouldn't say it's wrong outright. The Brits even use "they" with singular nouns like "the team" and so on.... so we can't call THEM wrong, can we?
    China...their sounds natural to me; when Soup says 'however, from a grammatical point of view, it's certainly not what speakers expect to hear or read ', I would add that this is common in BrE and will be seen and heard in the media, etc.

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    #10

    Re: Using they in a singular sentence?

    xxx
    Quote Originally Posted by Soup
    Using they in that context is awkward, and here's the reason why. Pronouns refer back to the closest noun, which means they in your example refers back to those policies. It's not until we, the readers, get tothe phrase to open up that we realize they doesn't refer to those policies but rather refers to China. It is for that reason that they is awkward in that particular context. The reader has to go back and read the sentence again. That's not good.
    Soup:

    As far as I'm aware, there is no formal English grammar rule that requires a pronoun to refer to the immediate noun as its intended antecedent. Pronouns do usually refer to the closest noun -- but not always. Context also provides determination of what noun the writer (or speaker) intends as the antecedent. And given the context of the posed sentence, it is obvious -- as you concede -- that the intended antecedent is in fact China. Why? - simply because logic tells us that "those policies" -- the closest possible antecedent -- cannot possibly act by themselves to "open up," but require people to perform this action; thus context obviously determines that they refers to China here.

    The awkwardness of this sentence, then, is not mistaking which antecendent is intended -- context already determines that -- but the fact that they must mean all of the Chinese people -- a logical impossibility.

    konungursvia:

    Yes. The title of the thread is as you note, "Using they in a singular sentence?" The example that you provided in your first post, however, --

    Quote Originally Posted by konungursvia
    ... it even functions in American English as a singular genderless subsitute for he or she...
    -- is specifically about as you say, using they "as a singular genderless substitute for he or she," which clearly is not the issue of the posed sentence: Here, in the posed sentence, we have no issue of genderless substitute arising at all. And that is my point. Bringing this tangential issue into the context of this discussion only serves to cloud the real issue here -- especially for a foreign language student.

    No. The real issue here is one of clarity of writing and meaning. In other words, requiring the obviously originally intended antecedent, China, to conform logically within its context. And, as previously explained, the context of the posed sentence tells us that all of the Chinese people is clearly not what the writer has intended. Thus the suggested correction:
    The Chinese government recognized that those policies were not productive, and they it began (instead) to open up. China started reforming their its economy after the 1980s, and constitute instituted a policy of opening up to the outside world; because of that, their its economy has been rejuvenated and growing every since.
    Last edited by Monticello; 21-May-2009 at 22:56.

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