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I have a problem with a sentence in a news announcement I'm writing. This is the sentence:

1) Company X is expanding and hires Person Y as their new CEO.

I've previously understood that it is correct to treat collective nouns, the company in this case, as singular or plural depending on if one refers to "the company itself" or "the people in the company". In this case, I'm referring to both (the company in itself is expanding, but the people are hiring someone as their new CEO). As such, the number of the pronoun does not agree with the number of the verb.

Two other possible versions that don't sound as right as the above are:

2) Company X is expanding and hire Person Y as their new CEO.

3) Company X is expanding and hires Person Y as its new CEO.

Which one is correct / do you prefer?

  • Company X are expanding and (they) have hired Y as their new CEO – Tushar Raj Jun 11 '15 at 9:54
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    The sentence is perfectly alright as you had it in the first place. You are merely using the singular they. This is quite normal when you do not know whether a referred person is male or female, to avoid using its. But it seems to me as a native speaker that it works perfectly alright in this case. You could use its, but I have no objection to their. – WS2 Jun 11 '15 at 10:59
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    @WS2: I don't think the they is singular. It's plural, referring to the company. The corresponding singular pronoun isn't he/she but it. – Tushar Raj Jun 11 '15 at 11:27
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    In a way, the OP is right in (3). However, the original structure as it is, is also acceptable where the reader can understand that the new hire will be the CEO to the employees of the company -- this sort of dual usage of the collective noun (even within the same sentence) is used in business writing/ news reporting and the readers are familiar with such a structure. In any case, strict grammar cannot be applied in such writing -- other criteria predominate. – Kris Jun 11 '15 at 12:45
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    @WS2 While the sentence is indeed right, it's not for the reason you think it is -- the logic is completely misplaced. I'm surprised at the up votes that keep coming to the comment :) – Kris Jun 11 '15 at 12:46
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This may be the copy editor in me speaking, but I think your first step should be to decide whether you intend to talk about "the company" as a collection of human beings performing various tasks or as a monolithic entity taking actions in a monolithic way. In U.S. English, in my experience, people tend to treat a company as a (singular) thing, not as a (plural) multiplicity or agglomeration.

In the OP's presentation, the sentence in question associates "Company X" with two activities: (1) expanding and (2) hiring a new CEO. To me, it doesn't seem especially accurate to say

The people of Company X are expanding and are hiring Person Y as their new CEO.

True, the people at Company X may benefit from the company's expansion and may become more numerous, but focusing entirely on the headcount sense in which they are indeed expanding seems a bit arbitrary, given that the company as an entity is expanding in many other ways as well (including revenues, markets, contractual agreements, and physical plant); and very few people at Company X are likely to have any say in the hiring of the new CEO. It therefore seems either that "Company X" is being referred to in its monolithic sense with regard to both activities (1) and (2), or that it is being referred to in its monolithic sense with regard to activity (1) and as a convenient shorthand for "a handful of top executives" with regard to activity (2).

To my mind, it is simpler to stick with the singular understanding of "Company X" throughout:

Company X is expanding and is hiring [or has hired] Person Y as its new CEO.

than to try to convey the mixed understanding at midstream:

Company X is expanding and [members of the CEO search committee] are hiring [or have hired] Person Y as their [and every other employee's] new CEO.

As for the argument that the singular form of they may be implied at the crossover point:

Company X is expanding and [they, understood singularly] are hiring [or have hired] Person Y as their [understood singularly] new CEO.

it seems to me that they has not been widely adopted (in the United States, at least) as a gender-nonspecific singular pronoun replacement for the gender-nonspecific singular pronoun it. I discuss this question on the other side of the gray rule below. On this side of the rule, I shall wrap up by observing that the sentence "Company X is expanding and is hiring [or has hired] Person Y as its new CEO" is formally consistent and practically unambiguous, whereas the sentence "Company X is expanding and are hiring [or have hired] Person Y as their new CEO" is formally inconsistent and a bit startling to read, and requires some effort by the reader to work out its logical underpinnings. For those reasons, I strongly recommend using the wording "Company X is expanding and is hiring [or has hired] Person Y as its new CEO."


Some thoughts about 'they' as a replacement for 'it'

To me, the most interesting thing about this question is the secondary question it obliquely raises about the suitability of replacing the gender-neutral singular pronoun it with the repurposed gender-neutral plural pronoun they.

The original argument in favor of using they/them as a singular pronoun, I believe, was that it avoided the gender specificity of he/she/him/her, and that the resulting gender neutrality justified what many people felt (during the period of transition to its widespread use) was a rather clunky-sounding application of a plural pronoun to singular duty. We have now emerged at the other end of that tunnel, and many people don't think twice about using they/them in place of a gender-specific singular pronoun.

But what does that mean for the future of it as a singular gender-neutral pronoun? Are people who have grown up using they as a gender-neutral replacement for singular he/she likely to use it also in place of singular it? Here is an Ngram chart for the years 1700–2005, tracking the frequency of use of it (blue line) versus they (red line) versus them (green line):

As you can see, the frequency of all three pronouns has tailed off a bit in the past 200 years or so, but there is no sign that the dropoff in usage of it has contributed to a gain in usage of they/them. The probable reason for this, I hypothesize, is that there has been virtually no tendency among people writing in English to replace singular it with singular they/them; and I would be quite surprised if the same were not true of people speaking in English.

The most notable exception to this general trend is precisely in connection with news reports about companies and other personifiable entities: Like the U.S. Supreme Court, Americans have a tendency to anthropomorphize individual businesses as, in some sense, thinking beings with a hierarchy of values, a viewpoint on social issues, and a political as well as commercial agenda. But even though it is not uncommon to see "a company" discussed in terms of "their" latest actions (especially where individual actors within the company are implied and sometimes even visible), it remains very rare to encounter a news report in which a company is first identified as "it" and then summarily shifted from that pronoun to "they."

Fundamentally, there is no good reason to replace it with they/them: Doing so doesn't make the language less biased, and it certainly doesn't make it clearer. So I suspect that it will carry on not much affected by the revolution in use of they/them in place of he/she/him/her.

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In British English collective nouns be singular or plural depending on context as you say, but in American English collective nouns are treated much the same way as any other kind of noun, so one would always say "Company X is expanding." I would add that all three are awkward - "Company X expands and hires Person Y" is the best way to put it in a news announcement.

0

This is perfectly acceptable in American English (which I'm assuming you speak, as otherwise you'd be happy saying company X are expanding).

We don't use a plural verb for a company, but we are perfectly happy to use they as the pronoun for a company. You could use its in your sentence, but for a sentence like

The team was putting on their uniforms,

you would have to rephrase it completely to avoid a mismatch in plurality between the verb and the pronoun.

0

The moot issue here is the distinction between a "collective noun" and a "noun of multitude " as shown by Nesfield.

*A collective noun denotes one undivided whole and takes a singular verb.

**A "noun of multitude" denotes the individuals of the group and takes plural verb even if the noun is singular. Example:

The jury is unanimous in decision.

The jury are divided in their opinions.

So is our "COMMITTEE" here. You may put your verb singular or plural and, accordingly, we would adjust our understanding of the noun in question.

But if you ask my verdict, stick to either singular or plural verb form, and to plural form only when it is imperative on our part to mean the comprising elements separately of the group.

To me all three sentences are correct but it could have been better if item no.(2) would accommodate one "they" after "and" keeping everything otherwise intact and in item(1) pronominal adjective "their" changed to "its".

0

Part of what makes this sound so awkward is the shift in tense. Try:

Company X is expanding, and hiring Person Y as its new CEO.

-1

Better, I think, is Company X is expanding and will hire... This separates the two more clearly and avoids the ambiguity.

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    That would be true if the hiring is in the future. The OP is referring to the practice of reporting hirings in the recent past. – Chenmunka Sep 3 '15 at 18:44
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For what it's worth, the thing which makes option 1 wrong is precisely that it switches from plural to singular. It also switches from continuous (is expanding) to non-continuous (hires), which also sounds wrong.

Either of the following sounds fine in British English:

  • Acme Coroporation expand and hire Jane Doe as their new CEO (plural)
  • Acme Coroporation expands and hires Jane Doe as its new CEO (singular)

As a guideline to remember though, just treat "company" as singular. You are very unlikely to go wrong that way.

protected by tchrist Oct 3 '15 at 14:09

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