Me and my friend had a conversation.

[My friend] damn, your listening skills are good
[Me] they've improved a lot since I started watching English dubbed anime

My friend told me that I can't use "they" to refer to my English listening skills because it sounds unnatural. He told me I shoulda said "it's improved a lot." instead. However, I'm not sure why that is the case. Could anyone explain it to me?

  • 4
    I've cleaned up and shortened the dialogue. There was a lot of irrelevant chat. (Do you record a transcript of your conversations? Your unstructured dialogue did not look like the sort of thing one could remember without a recording.. or was this a "text" conversation). By the way, the spelling is "should've" not "shoulda".
    – James K
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 6:41
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    No. "Shoulda" is an eye dialect. It is a phonetic spelling to indicate pronunciation. In writing "shoulda" is a mistake.
    – James K
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 7:05
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    @JamesK yes it's eye dialect, but that doesn't mean it's wrong, just very informal. In such contexts, it's extremely common. If this was in a text conversation over an instant messenger, it would be entirely appropriate
    – Tristan
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 15:59
  • 9
    @barbecue In the context of writing a question on English language learners stackexchange (and not the quoted text conversation), it is a mistake. A minor one and quite tolerable, but still a mistake. I would not mention it on a stack on which the goal was not language learning. But many learners are, understandably confused about contractions and spoken forms like "gonna" or "wanna", which are freely used in conversation, but are incorrect in standard written English. We do no favours by say that "shoulda" is mere a styistic choice.
    – James K
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 21:46
  • 4
    JamesK is correct. "shoulda" does not appear in the dictionary: lexico.com/search?filter=en_dictionary&query=shoulda - it's a colloquialism that shouldn't be used on this ELL stack
    – Aaron F
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 16:01

1 Answer 1


As described here, "listening skills" is plural. So, "they" have improved a lot is fine. If your friend had said "your English has improved a lot," English would be singular. So, "it has improved a lot" would be correct.

  • 63
    Your friend is wrong
    – James K
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 7:06
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    Your friend is confused. The "they" in the sentence refers to the plural skills, not the single person. Consider "Exports this year are worse than last year. They have probably suffered as a result of the pandemic" - there isn't even a person being discussed here, just plural exports
    – Caius Jard
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 17:11
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    @DavidSchwartz "It's" can also be a contraction of "it has," which would indeed be correct in that sentence if the antecedent were singular. Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 23:24
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    So "they've improved a lot" sounds unnatural to your friend. That suggests to me that your friend is not a native speaker of English. It would sound perfectly natural to native speakers all over the world. Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 3:38
  • 3
    I'd go beyond 'fine' and say that the use of they is the only correct way given the two options. OP's friend is wrong twice - not just saying "they've ..." sounds unnatural, but also in proffering "it's ..." as the correct version.
    – mcalex
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 4:24

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