I am not a native speaker and I find the following sentence pretty confusing.

Ask any doctor — they'll all tell you that alcohol is a poison.

Here the speaker is referring to any doctor. Why is they used instead of he/her? Or to put it in other words shouldn't the correct form of the sentence be as follows?

Ask any doctor — he/she'll all tell you that alcohol is a poison.`

marked as duplicate by anongoodnurse, Mari-Lou A, user66974, FumbleFingers, tchrist Jun 22 '14 at 14:57

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  • "He will all tell you" isn't proper English. He is singular; all indicates plural doctors. It is like saying I will all go to the store. But the use of they is common in your sentence; the reason is in the link. – anongoodnurse Jun 22 '14 at 4:35
  • 1
    What the link means is that the answer to your question is found there. Instead of the pronoun agreeing with the subject "Ask any doctor, he will tell you" or the clumsier construction "Ask any doctor, he or she will tell you..." Many native speakers and writers use the "plural" pronoun they, its use and meaning is widely understood. – Mari-Lou A Jun 22 '14 at 4:35

You're right that the plurality of "any" and "they" disagree. People often use "they" as a gender-neutral singular pronoun, but with "they'll all," it's clear that it's meant in the plural sense. "They'll all" refers implicitly to all doctors based on the context, but is not meant specifically to refer back to "any doctor," and consequently does not need the same plurality. Splitting the sentence into two sentences, or even just replacing the dash with a semicolon, would be a good way to make it even clearer that the antecedent of "they" is not "any doctor."

Ask any doctor; they'll all tell you that alcohol is a poison.
Ask any doctor. They'll all tell you that alcohol is a poison.

If the antecedent of "they" cannot be "any doctor" because of the plurality mismatch, what is it? It is not specified. Because of this, even though the meaning of "they'll all" is clear, the grammar is not perfect.

  • It is not a matter of plurality between any and they. Anyone can tell you that they are no more plural than you are. – tchrist Jun 22 '14 at 14:57

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