This sentence is grabbed from a website:

A teacher's primary goal is to teach students the best they can about the things that are in our textbooks and more important, how to show respect for one another.`

I am not sure that they in this phrase: the best they can is appointed to whom. I think it is related to "teachers" which came in the singular form at the beginning. (which is wrong and should be plural)

And if it is related to students, the auxiliary can in the following needs a verb?


2 Answers 2


It is correct to use "they" in reference to a singular noun because you don't know if the teacher is a man or a woman.

Someone has left their umbrella in the changing room.

One person left an umbrella. Unless I know for sure that this person is a woman or a man, I wouldn't say "his" or "her".


This sentence is talking about all teachers in general. We do not know who the teacher is so we cannot give them a gender, therefore we use the neutral of 'they', referring to all teachers.

If we were talking about a group of people who we knew were all female or were all male, it would be correct to say 'the best he can' or 'the best she can'. For example: 'A waitress's primary goal is to ensure the happiness of her customer the best she can'. Here we can use 'she' because we know that all waitresses are female. Equally, you could use 'the best they can' here as well.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .