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Let's look at this sentence.

China has as much claim to North Korea as they have over Tibet. That is, if they do decide to invade and occupy North Korea.

Question

  1. You do agree this passage is grammatically problematic, don't you?

  2. If using they as pronoun for China is somehow an imperative in this passage, how would you resolve this grammatical conflict?

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    “That firm does offer a good retirement plan, even if they don’t have a good vacation policy” has no more of a “grammatical” problem than the original, wouldn't you agree? – tchrist Apr 20 '17 at 0:39
  • "That firm has a good a good retirement plan, though they have not any good vacation policy." You believe such a sentence has no grammatical conflict? – Blessed Geek Apr 20 '17 at 0:42
  • Nobody said "though they have not". I honestly don't understand what you're seeing here. China is singular and they is plural; both agree with their verbs correctly and thus no grammatical error can be pretended to exist here. The verbs have different subjects: it is only natural that each should agree with its respective subject, not with a different one governing a wholly different verb. – tchrist Apr 20 '17 at 0:43
  • Exactly. Deal with the phrase in the question. – Blessed Geek Apr 20 '17 at 0:43
  • I'm more bothered by the claim to/over inconsistency than the choice of pronoun. – 1006a Apr 20 '17 at 11:37
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The problem is with your chosen pronouns. Observe how smoothly it flows once a few corrections have been made:

China has as much claim to North Korea as it does over Tibet. That is, if it does decide to invade and occupy North Korea.

Why did I choose the pronoun it? Quite simply because you said China has. You should maintain consistency among your pronouns, so if you use the singular "has", you are treating the noun (China) as a single, collective unit. That is, you're talking about China as the country in general as a single entity.

If you'd prefer to use the plural pronoun they, then the change is as simple as replacing "has" with "have" and "China" (singular) with "The Chinese" (plural):

The Chinese have as much claim to North Korea as they do over Tibet. That is, if they do decide to invade and occupy North Korea.

  • China is a they surely, not an it. We're talking about a bunch of people, not a rock. – tchrist Apr 20 '17 at 2:19
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    Actually, we're talking about a country, or a country's government. Both its. – vpn Apr 20 '17 at 5:18
  • @tchrist I get your interpretation, but I disagree. Take, for example, the following: "America is a great nation. It is the land of the free." You can certainly use "it" when referring to a country if your intention, as vanderpn notes, is to refer to the country itself or the country's government. – AleksandrH Apr 20 '17 at 11:21
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China has as much claim to North Korea as they have over Tibet.

I don't actually agree that the use of verbs with different number agreement to describe the same logical entity in this sentence is a problem in terms of grammar. (Some people might object to it as a matter of style.) It's usual for verbs to agree with their immediate subjects, not necessarily the antecedent to their subjects, and just because an expression refers back to a preceding noun phrase doesn't mean it has to match in the agreement categories of number and person.

Compare:

Your Highness is as generous as you are eloquent.

"The Merchant's Talisman", by Paul de Musset (in French), translated by G.J. Knox, The Literary aspirant magazine (Jan 1846) p. 171

Other examples of this kind of mismatch may arise with the perhaps badly named "singular they" as in:

any student has as much time as they want to take to complete the test.

Kill the Messenger: The War on Standardized Testing, by Richard P. Phelps

Other relevant posts:

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    The so-called singular they is normally used to keep the gender neutrality. The collective nouns can take either singular or plural verbs as well as singular or plural pronouns as per the intention of the writer/speaker, but there should be a consistency through out the sentence to make it idiomatic. – mahmud koya Apr 20 '17 at 1:10
  • @mahmudkoya: can you cite a source? That just sounds like a rule that someone would come up with out of a desire to make things neat and orderly. As I said, some might find "China has as much claim to North Korea as they have over Tibet" to be bad style, but I don't see how it is not "idiomatic." – sumelic Apr 20 '17 at 1:11
  • The sentence Your Highness is as generous as you are eloquent has grammatically two different subjects (though they imply one person with an imbalanced use of Highness). If it is rephrased as Your Highness is as generous as your Highness is eloquent or You are as generous as you are eloquent, also the subjects and verbs agree correctly and the sentences become idiomatic. In the sentence any student has as much time as they want to take to complete the test they is used to keep the gender neutrality. – mahmud koya Apr 20 '17 at 1:30
  • @mahmudkoya: so you're saying that "Your Highness is as generous as you are eloquent" is not idiomatic as it is? What do you mean exactly by "idiomatic"? I generally understand that word to refer to things that sound natural to native speakers. – sumelic Apr 20 '17 at 1:33
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    @mahmud koya: Nothing unnatural about it at all in AmE. "After the game is over, the team goes to their homes" is much, much better than "After the game is over, the team goes to its homes." (Although in England, you'd say "the team go to their homes".) – Peter Shor Apr 20 '17 at 12:01

protected by tchrist Sep 1 '18 at 19:10

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