All right, pull over, writers! Editorial Chief Cynthia of The Grammar Police has caught you in a gross violation of the English language! Do you know why I stopped you? No? It's that phraseology you used – a singular subject with a plural pronoun.
Yes, I know, you're only trying to get around the awkwardness of saying "he/she" or even the trendy "s/he." Juggling his/her is even harder. But the latest efforts to change the language – substituting the plural "they" for "his" or "her" singular pronouns – goes too far. It's like speeding up in a school zone because you can see the "return to speed limit" sign ahead.
Before you fly off the handle at me about this, and add "assaulting an officer" to your misdemeanor, let me read you the law. After all, this has more effect on our understanding than mistaking "it's" for "its" or abusing an Oxford comma.*
Language is one of the greatest gifts of civilization. In fact, some anthropologists claim that it wasn't until humans developed a form of language that true civilization began. Without language, we simply would not be able to accomplish anything that would make human civilization possible, because our higher communication – expressing intangible, abstract thought – would be rudimentary or non-existent. The biblical tale of the Tower of Babel, with God confusing a common language, isn't only about the hubris of trying to reach heaven through human endeavor. It's about the basic need of humans for ways to make their thoughts known to one another, and how difficult communication is even when we share a common language.
Now let's get down to the nitty-gritty. Unless a person in question has a mouse in his/her pocket, the person constitutes a single individual. One. And the appropriate way to address an individual is by her/his name or by a singular pronoun. To substitute a plural pronoun simply confuses the issue; to whom are we referring, one person, or a crowd of people?
The same goes for that commonly used church-speak word: "persons." There isn't any such thing! The plural of "person" is "people." And every time this editor encounters "persons," I'm going to change it to "people."
Why bother with such nit-picky, persnickety rules of grammar? First, because that's what Editorial Chiefs do – we edit. Secondly, while there are some rules that can be adapted by usage over time, the basics of grammar are like the building blocks of a house. If the blocks are laid askew, the house falls down.
Yes, I'm letting you off with a warning this time. But don't be surprised if your essay gets corrected for publication when those rogue expressions start flying around. This place isn't nicknamed "Grammartown" for nothing.
And by the way, don't forget to back up your computer hard drive. Losing a hard drive full of data to a laptop that broke when dropped on a concrete floor is why I'm grumpy enough to stop you for subject-pronoun-verb disagreement.
Remember, the Grammar Police are your (not "you're") friends.
*Don't know what an "Oxford comma" is? Well, look it up. I'm not going to do your homework for you.
Editorial Chief Cynthia Astle of the Grammar Police has been correcting other people's grammar for more than four decades. That explains a lot.