Is using "their" in a phrase "Everyone has their reasons for doing something" informal? This reason I'm asking this is because a test book I'm using claims that using their in the situation above is informal, and that "his or her" is the more formal alternative. I find this very strange however, and would like someone to verify this claim. So is using "their" in the situation above considered informal?


  • 1
    It depends what you mean by "formal". Would you care to give us a definition? – WS2 Sep 29 '18 at 14:40
  • @WS2 I should have been more specific. I meant formal as in grammatically correct. – Ethan Chan Sep 29 '18 at 14:41
  • 'Everyone' is singular, but 'their' (and 'they') are plural, although that may be changing. – AmI Sep 29 '18 at 18:34
  • Some good answers here – S Conroy Sep 29 '18 at 20:44
  • It would be perfectly grammatical either way. – WS2 Sep 30 '18 at 6:09

According to the APA blog:

The singular they is also commonly used to refer to a person whose gender is irrelevant or unknown—for example, imagine the sentence "The participant indicated their preferences." However, most formal writing and style guides, including the APA Publication Manual, the Chicago Manual of Style, and the AP Stylebook, do not currently support this usage, deeming it too informal and/or ungrammatical.

Thus, I would say that your textbook is correct, although if you're using a specific style guide you should check it to make sure. The blog goes on to mention the strategy of using "his or her" as one alternative (of several) to replace "their", but it says to "avoid overusing this strategy, as it can become cumbersome upon many repetitions".

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