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This has been bothering me for a long time and I don't know what the proper word to describe it is, so I just put the words in the title.

The live sentence is something like this:

After (a) user(s) create(s) (an) account(s), they will get (an) email(s).

It is used to describe a normal behavior of a website. I think it will be easier if I just say

After a user creates an account, they will get an email.

But if for some reason I want the subject to be plural, then should I also make the object plural as well as the object in the clause?

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  • Similar to the way the collective ass is used in "Our team got our ass kicked," in common speech it is clear that by "users creating an account" we mean each user is creating an account, rather than all the users creating one single account. But you are right, "when a user creates an account" is the clearest way to express this. Jul 9 at 13:39
  • This is a technical writing question. How I've resolved it in my day job is to stick with plurals throughout so you can use the plural pronoun "they". That way everything agrees in number. It's a sad thing, but using singular is risky. Jul 9 at 14:13
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First, constructs like "After (a) user(s)" etc., should be avoided. Unless your intention is to annoy and confuse the maximum number of people. When you put in those () brackets, you are creating little "either/and" branches for the reader on each one. After five or six brackets in such a sentence your user is likely to give you an anatomically unlikely suggestion as to what to do with your account creation process.

To resolve such questions, you decide who the audience is. Is it a single user at a time that creates an account? I expect it is a single user. Does that single user create one account at a time? Again, I expect it is. How many emails will that user get after creating one account? Suppose it is one email.

If there were an option for multiple users to gang together and create an account as a group, there is appropriate language to describe that. If multiple accounts can be created at a time there is language for that. And if multiple emails get sent after the account creation step (all too depressingly often the case) there is language for that. But let us suppose it is one for each of these.

So you could correctly write it the way you suggested. But there is a possibly better choice. Use "you" instead of "a user." Indeed, I would say you should write all user instructions in this fashion.

  • After you create an account, the system will send you an email.

This removes the ambiguity of "a user" and the passive "will get."

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