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A multiple-choice question:

Every teacher and pupil at Eton Girl's college is pround of ____ school.

I am aware that we should treat "every....” as a singular subject, so the blank should be filled with a singular possessive pronoun. However, which one should I use, her or his? Though it's a girl's college, there must be some male faculty.

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  • It should be Eton Girls' College, as it's not a school for only one girl. Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 9:13

3 Answers 3

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If you know every teacher and pupil is female you could use "her", though it would sound a little old fashioned to me. I'd probably use "their" to sound natural to native speakers. Singular they is perfectly acceptable almost everywhere.

https://public.oed.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-singular-they/

There are some manuals of style that still resist it, in which case you could use "his or her" if you are unsure of the gender breakdown.

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  • Yeah, I read somewhere that singular they is very informal Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 5:02
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    @mirthspritzsultryobscurantism - singular 'they' is not 'very informal'. Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 7:04
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The correct prescriptivist answer is the "gender-neutral he:" "Every teacher and pupil at Eton Girl's College is proud of his school."

However in modern usage this comes across as sexist and exclusionary, especially when discussing an all-girls school, and a better choice would be the "gender-neutral they:" "Every teacher and pupil at Eton Girl's College is proud of their school."

As an aside, I think the sentence would be better served by using "Each teacher and pupil..." instead of "Every..." but that's just preference.

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  • What persuades you that separating them out into a collection of individuals using 'each' serves the sentence better than grouping them under 'every'. It just sounds awkward to me. Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 8:58
  • @gonefishin, only personal preference.
    – randomhead
    Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 14:43
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Even in traditional prescriptivist grammar, "their" might be correct because you are talking about a school belonging to multiple people. Certainly if you were to say something like "The staff and students were happy. Each one was proud of their school", then "their" would be incontrovertibly correct because it would have the plural "the staff and students" as a possible antecedent.

Regardless, there is no doubt that the vast majority of native speakers would use "their" here.

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