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I am always confused by these tricky-in my opinion-ones as below.

For example,

  1. People love their life or lives.
  2. Girls always love their boyfriend or boyfriends.
  3. People think of their college or colleges as an enjoyable place or enjoyable places.

My point is that every time I come across such things, I am not sure about whether an objective or a complement has to be plural, every time the subject is plural. Actually, in the ex1 sentence, I think both of them are what I have seen before. However, the rest 2 sentences are not so sure if I let them be singular. In the ex2, every girl has one boyfriend-IN MOST CASES. Also, in the ex3, everyone attends one college.

In that sense, since the subjects are plural, should the objectives or the compliment be pluralized? Or, is it okay if I leave them single as the ex1 sentence? The problem is, though, if I leave them singular they sound like they have ONE boyfriend to share or they go to the same college. It sounds weird to me. Is it just me or is this incorrect?

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Sounds like a duplicate. Have you checked previous questions, just to make sure? –  Kris Mar 15 '13 at 7:26

2 Answers 2

up vote 0 down vote accepted

For sentence one:

Look at it like this, 'He loves his life' and 'She loves her life' are obviously correct.

Now, when we we say 'People love their _ .', we can mean two things:

  1. They love their own lives (separate lives) .
  2. They love the life that they are having together or share.

Example:

  • 'Software developers love their life' would mean that software developers love the life of software development.
  • 'Software developers love their lives' would mean that the group of software developers you are talking about, love their own individual lives.
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Under no circumstances would I permit a singular object in either sentence 2 or sentence 3. In both cases, the subjects of the sentence are called "plural generics," the grammatical term for the use of the plural noun to create a generic class. [See this explanation of plural generics][1]. As with any other subject and possessive object, the generic plural must agree with the number of the subject when a possessive is used. For example "Everyone take his seat," is correct, but *"Everyone take their seat," is NOT correct, even though people often say it. "Everybody take their seats," is also fine, because 'everybody' is plural, while 'everyone' in this context is singular. In fact, the phrase "everyone take their seat" could only be correct if you were instructing a group of people ("everyone") to take the seat of another group ("their"--that other group over there's--seat). Similarly, the same rules apply for generic plurals.

You can read more about generic plurals, and a special case called the 'generic they' here.

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