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For a paper that I have to write for school, I have the following sentence* that my teacher claims is incorrect. I am not sure what is incorrect about it, but it has something to do with my usage of anyone and their.

Because of how the program works, anyone interested in using it only needs to have it installed on their machine.

What's wrong with my anyone - their usage?

*The sentence provided has been deliberately modified to make the subject of my paper ambiguous.

  • The program must be installed onto a computer first before it will run. That's how i'd write it. Your teacher is however mistaken but that said; 'anyone interested' and 'only' aren't really needed to convey what you mean. – Joe Dark Oct 26 '14 at 18:38
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    @Jasper: I'm not sure I agree in this specific context - where I'm assuming the teacher teaches English. But gender/plurality neutral they is so well-established I find it hard to see how anyone claiming to teach anything using the English language could make such a mistake as a mere "inadvertent slip". It smacks of monumentally ignorant prescriptivism to me. – FumbleFingers Oct 26 '14 at 18:57
  • Ask your teacher. He knows for a fact what his problem is, and he is paid actual money to tell you. Neither is true of a bunch of random strangers off the Internet, so there's no point in asking them instead. We can only guess, and it is not a purpose of this site to guess what someone, somewhere might consider wrong about a perfectly fine sentence. Worse still, if you ask people to guess what's wrong with "I have a red car", then you will learn that every single word in it is ungrammatical, misspelled, and not even English. So ask your teacher, then ask us if what he says is right. – RegDwigнt Oct 26 '14 at 22:02
  • @RegDwigнt Thanks for the advice. Please see my comment on the answer I accepted. – DaveTheMinion Oct 27 '14 at 0:21
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My guess is that your teacher thought it was incorrect because she thought anyone should go with his or her. However, it is correct as their can be used to avoid referring to either sex.

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    I e-mailed my teacher asking if that was the problem and he said that I was correct. Thank you for your help. – DaveTheMinion Oct 27 '14 at 0:20
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It might have to do with the formality of your essay. Most formal essays must be written in third person. "Anyone" is not considered formal English appropriate for a scholar essay and is colloquial first person. Rather use "a person could". Same with "their" which in your context is second person. The combination of anyone and their sounds sloppy (not trying to be condescending but objective here).

Rather rewrite the sentence as "Because of how the program works, a person interested in using it needs only to have it installed on their machine.

IMHO of course !

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Perhaps your teacher's complaint is that "anyone" is singular and "their" is plural. Be consistent and use "anyone" and "one's" or "people" and "their".

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Your teacher sounds a bit pedantic, but substituting "their machine" for "the machne" is an cure

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