This is a writing task in my IELTS practice test book

Nowadays, a growing number of people with health problems are trying alternative medicines and treatments instead of visiting their usual doctor. Do you think this is a positive development?

I have asked many native speakers, they explained to me that because generally, each person has 1 doctor, so that the word "doctor" is used in singular form. This means I think that "their" here means "each person".

But I have another opinion, that if "their" means "people in general", then each person has 1 doctor, so that people has their doctors ( people in plural form have doctors in plural from). Can I use the word "doctors" (plural form) in this sentence with the same meaning?

Here is another example:

Nowadays, people spending more time away from their homes because they spend longer in their workplace. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages.

In this example, people use plural form instead. Can I use singular form "home" instead?

For general statement with the subject "people", I don't know when "their" means each person, or their mean people in general.

  • 2
    See this question. The second example should be People are spending.... I would use away from home, but with their either singular or plural is possible. Sep 8, 2022 at 16:32
  • Hi, I already read that thread, is that both singular form and plural form have the same meaning for my 2 examples?
    – LE HANH
    Sep 8, 2022 at 16:42
  • @LEHANH Why do you think "doctor" or "home" would have different rules to "lunch" and "desk"?
    – gotube
    Sep 8, 2022 at 16:46
  • 1
    Yes - I've just said that you can use either in the second example, and so you can in the first. Sep 8, 2022 at 16:46
  • 1
    @LEHANH: if you use the plural, that becomes ambiguous: it allows that people might have more than one doctor each.
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 8, 2022 at 16:54

1 Answer 1


Either the p0lural or the singular form may be used here. Either is valid grammatically, and either might be used and would be understood by a fluent speaker.

It is perhaps somewhat more common when speaking of "people in general" or any large and poorly defined group, to use a singular form, as if speaking of each individual member of the group. member. But sometimes this doesn't seem to work well, or a writer chooses the plural form as a matter of style. That is fine.

One can also start with "A person" instead of "people", speaking of s typical example, and using singular forms.

As a comment by Kate Bunting pointed out:

Nowadays, people spending more time away from their homes because they spend longer in their workplace.

is in error, and should be:

Nowadays, people are spending more time away from their homes because they spend longer in their workplaces.

The verb "are" is needed here, and if "homes" is to be plural, so should "workplaces".

  • How about the example of “doctor”. Both singular form and plural form can be used with the same meaning. Right?
    – LE HANH
    Sep 8, 2022 at 17:35
  • 1
    Yes, either form may be used in the "doctor" example, and most similar constructions.,
    – David Siegel
    Sep 8, 2022 at 17:39
  • With “doctors “ in plural form. This could mean each person have 1 doctor, but it also could mean that each person have several doctors. Right?
    – LE HANH
    Sep 9, 2022 at 1:33
  • 1
    @LE HA Yes it could. But even the singular form, being an obvious generalization, does not rule out more than one doctor per person, in my view.
    – David Siegel
    Sep 9, 2022 at 14:10
  • 1
    @LE HA No. The singular form "make a lot of mistakes in their live" is not correct. Please ask a separate question for a fuller explanation. There are at least two issues with this sentence, too much to address in a comment.
    – David Siegel
    Sep 10, 2022 at 15:50

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