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Which pronoun refers to a group …

Helping my sister with 3rd-grade homework, feel silly for checking.

She wrote:

The candy was brought by Mrs. Jeffrey's class. The candy was brought by them.

I corrected her with this:

The candy was brought by Mrs. Jeffrey's class. The candy was brought by it.

She wouldn't stop saying how it sounded weird. But I believe this is the right choice. Can anyone confirm?

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Before saying that the choice that sounds weird is the "right" choice, you really need to define what you think you mean by "right". What if you define "right" to mean "doesn't sound weird"? –  Neil Coffey Jan 23 '13 at 2:49
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Because both "it" and "them" are grammatically correct, the question is really about style. The first point about style is that the question is no good: No reasonable native speaker would ever say "The candy was brought by Mrs. Jeffrey's class. The candy was brought by {them/it}." They'd say "Mrs. Jeffrey's class brought the candy" and be done with it. Artificial language to teach artificial modes of expression is pointless_ is the only correct answer to this homework assignment. –  user21497 Jan 23 '13 at 3:14
    
Agree with the point about artificial language. I assume that the exercise was prefixed with a preamble to explain the idea that you're suggesting a second sentence to replace the first. But it's still a really stupid exercise in any case: if I was the parent of this child, I'd be visiting the principal at some time in the near future. –  Neil Coffey Jan 23 '13 at 16:10
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marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, MετάEd, Jim, Kristina Lopez, Barrie England Jan 23 '13 at 8:09

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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Both it and them can be used to refer to the class. It depends on whether you want to think of the class as a collective whole or as distinct individuals.

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It's ridiculous that this question would be given to a third grader. For the third grader, it depends on which prescriptive rule the teacher is using. Otherwise, both are correct. See the entry for notional agreement in Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English usage.

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In any case, though, you could take the view that the useful purpose of prescriptive rules is to attempt to clarify the language. (In reality, it's very debatable whether they usually do, but we can perhaps assume that that is the perceived purpose by those that advocate them.) While in principle there may be two competing options, if one of the rules leads to an utterance that "sounds weird", you could take the view that the benefit of writing something that doesn't "sound weird" overrides the benefit of the rule in question. –  Neil Coffey Jan 23 '13 at 2:58
    
@NeilCoffey i agree, more or less. the prescriptive rules can indeed be clarifying when they help people with unfamiliar constructions or help non-native speakers to get a quick grasp. but it is really counterproductive if it is training a third-grader to second-guess her usually sound intuitions about what sounds grammatical. –  jlovegren Jan 23 '13 at 3:26
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