Neither John nor Mary thinks (pronoun?) will lose their race.

Probably the best solution for this sentence is to recast it as "Both John and Mary think the other will lose their race," or something along those lines, but I'm curious to know if there's a consensus on what pronoun best fits mixed gender antecedents in a case like this.

  • Even though it's not really grammatical, I'd lean towards this (short of a complete rewrite): "Neither John nor Mary think they will lose their race." OK, so "neither" really means "not either", which better suits a singular verb. But the sentence I suggested would probably sound OK to most ears, and is not overly ambiguous (though potentially so). – ralph.m Nov 20 '15 at 13:04
  • 3
    Basically you mumble. – Hot Licks Nov 20 '15 at 13:07
  • 2
    You already used "their" before "race". Should it be asked, too? – user140086 Nov 20 '15 at 13:23
  • Related: ell.stackexchange.com/q/2790/99 – Kris Nov 21 '15 at 14:03

You will find on this site a multiplicity of references to the singular they

When the gender is indeterminate it is perfectly acceptable to use they with plural conjugations.

Whoever it is at the door please tell them they are not welcome at this hour. Equally Neither John nor Mary think they will lose the race.

  • That option came much later. – Kris Nov 20 '15 at 14:18
  • @Kris I am not sure what time-frame you have in mind, but it has certainly been that way all my life - and that's a fair while. – WS2 Nov 20 '15 at 21:25

The proper pronoun is "one of them or either of them" which can be used for any gender. You could also use just "one" or "either" as a pronoun.

Also, you don't need to stick to the construction with "neither A nor B". This construction is usually used to negate the actions of two subjects at the same time.

If you see the definition of neither and its usages, none of them has such a construction.

John and Mary don't think "one/either" of them will lose the race.

  • However, that's not the question. – Kris Nov 20 '15 at 14:18
  • @Kris What is not the question? Is my answer suggesting to use "one of them/either of them" wrong? Are they not pronouns? – user140086 Nov 20 '15 at 14:20

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