I am wondering if we're allowed to use singular and then use plural to refer to the same thing in the same sentence. I am not sure if it's allowed, it's a very rare case, but it's something we may encounter in speech, so I was wondering how ungrammatical it was.

For example:

Punch any man who insults you so that they will respect you.

Punch any man who insults you so that all of them will respect you.

2 Answers 2


Your second sentence is very clearly meant to refer to both the singular "any man" and the plural "all of them" in that order, so you really aren't referring to the same thing, but two different things. So that sentence is fine.

If the first sentence is intended to express that same idea (punch one to impress many), it isn't as clearly stated. In fact this first sentence sounds like the intent is to make a man respect you by punching him (the same guy).

In that case (if you are referring to the same thing/person twice in one statement) you need to use all singular or all plural for it, even in this example.

It sounds a little like you are using the so-called "singular they" to refer to him the second time.

Supposedly this "singular they" has been getting more popular recently, but in this case I don't think it's appropriate. The whole point of the "singular they" is to avoid the need to specify a gender with a singular pronoun. In this sentence, the person you are talking about has already been identified as a man, so there isn't any point in saying "they", and it does cause some confusion as to your meaning.

If you do mean to say, "Punch one so all will respect you," I recommend your second sentence option.

  • Yeah, singular they when you've established the gender comes across as odd - but still it's what the first sentence reads like, odd or not.
    – SamBC
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 0:02

The first sentence does indeed seem to be a use of "singular they" -- a use of "they" as a third-person singular non-gendered pronoun. This is not wrong, it has a history of usage over hundreds of years, and has indeed been growing more popular of late as a way of avoiding gendered language, and also avoiding "him or her" constructions. Personally i am not fond of it, but many people are using it, and you will see it and must understand it, whether you choose to use it or not.

However, as the answer by @Lorel C. points out, this sentence already identifies the person punched as a "man", which makes the use of singular they rather pointless. Either clearly identify the person as male, and write:

Punch any man who insults you so that he will respect you.

or else stay firmly non-gendered with

Punch any person who insults you so that they will respect you.


Punch any person who insults you so he or she they will respect you.

In the second sentence, it is not clear who "all of them" are. All the people one might punch? All who see the event? everyone in the world? Or is this an attempt to do the same thing that singular they does, and refer to the "man{" without gender?

In any case i would not use this sentence unless some other nearby sentence gives context, making it clear who "all of them" are. If the intent is that "all of them" refer to a single person without specifying gender, this is the wrong way to do that. Either use singular they as in the first sentence, or use "he or she".

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