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I have an assignment that is 30 percent of my grade. Would my teacher say

This task counts toward 30 percent of you guys' grades or you guys' grade?

And why?

[EDIT includes minor corrections]

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  • 1
    Possible duplicate of Have a seat, guys (have seats?) Aug 21, 2016 at 15:05
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    In this case, I think grade sounds better, because each student has only one grade. Aug 21, 2016 at 15:07
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    @Alan Carmack: I disagree. Because OP's text explicitly pluralises the pronoun (by attaching the Saxon genitive to you guys rather than using the ambiguously singular/plural your), only grades really works. Aug 21, 2016 at 15:25
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    I can't imagine a teacher using you guys'...
    – J.R.
    Aug 21, 2016 at 18:43
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    @JimR - Just to clarify, I meant that I can't imagine a teacher using you guys' in the context of explaining the grading scheme while going over the course syllabus on the first day of class. (Something like, "You guys don't forget that Project 2 is due on Monday" while the students are filing out the door on Friday afternoon wouldn't seem unusual at all.)
    – J.R.
    Aug 22, 2016 at 15:42

2 Answers 2

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We can and do say both of them in standard English.

My sense is that most or many teachers who say that would probably not think about their choice of using grade or grades, and most students who hear it would probably not notice which choice the teacher made.

This is because we can think of the grade (or grades) and the situation in three ways.

The first way is to think that every student will get a grade, so there are multiple grades (every student will get one). Since the noun names more than one grade, we can use grades for the same simple reason we say Here are some apples.

The second way is to think of the grade is as a singular thing. It is a thing that the teacher calculates in a certain way, and the teacher is explaining to all of you how she calculates it. (That singular thing.)

I will illustrate this with an example. Suppose a fire department hires 15 new firefighters. On their first day, a trainer might greet the group by saying Welcome, everybody. Let me start by telling you some things about the (or your) job.

Here, the trainer is talking about (thinking about) a single job: firefighter, even though there are 15 people who have 15 new jobs.

Finally, we can conceptualize the message as the teacher speaking to each of you individually, about your grade, and only your grade, even though she is speaking to each of you all together at the same time.

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  • So in the "grade" case, they think of the class as one entity like referring their grades to one grade, which is like a grade composition template.
    – HUN
    Aug 22, 2016 at 2:51
  • I think that you are saying the same thing, yes. Or something similar. Aug 22, 2016 at 9:12
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Because OP's example usage explicitly pluralises the pronoun (by attaching the Saxon genitive to you guys), only plural grades really works. (Note that you guys is a very informal usage itself.)

To illustrate that principle, compare...

1: 80% of your grades are based on course work projects
2: 80% of your grade is based on course work projects
3: 80% of the children's grades are based on course work projects
4: ? 80% of the children's grade is based on course work projects


If it had used the ambiguously singular/plural your, it's simply a matter of style / emphasis on the part of the teacher. Does he himself think (or does he want to encourage the students to think) that the class is a collective coherent entity capable of being "idealized" and distilled into a hypothetical single representative student, for example?

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  • There's more than one student, but each student only gets one grade. This is tricky.
    – J.R.
    Aug 21, 2016 at 18:42
  • @J.R.♦: I don't see anything at all tricky here, unless we contemplate the "pathological" case where several classes are in competition with each other (and each class has one single "collective grade" to be compared against that of every other class, as with something like an Olympic team). Aug 21, 2016 at 18:45
  • Grade works in my dialect of American English. Although I would say This task counts toward 30 percent of y'all's grade. Y'all is just as plural as you guys. Aug 21, 2016 at 18:59
  • @Alan: I can understand that the current preponderance of votes for Jim's answer is simply because people aren't thinking things through, but in your case I can only suppose it really is a matter of "dialectal" variance. I'd be interested to know if you could bring yourself to endorse the usage in my example #4 above (I certainly can't). Aug 21, 2016 at 20:10
  • #1 and #3 are somewhere between ambiguous and misleading in British English. The intended meaning probably isn't "four out of every five children receive a grade based on course work, and the other child's grade is based on something else," but that's one way to interpret the sentences. #2 is fine - either you are talking to only one person, or you are talking to a group but the message is for each person individually. #4 should be "80% of each child's grade"...
    – alephzero
    Aug 21, 2016 at 22:37

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