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The House of Representatives shall chuse their [modernly, its] Speaker.

U.S. Const. art. I, § 2

Wouldn't the use of its here be "animateness-neutral", so to speak, as opposed to their?

  • 2
    who are you quoting, or are those "scare-quotes" around animateness-neutral? – vectory Dec 23 '19 at 19:25
  • @vectory kinda; it's an expression of my own – GJC Dec 23 '19 at 22:07
  • So the question is whether yours is a good description? It's hardly common or standard. – John Lawler Dec 23 '19 at 23:47
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This is not a singular they, as your tags imply it might be, but a plural they. In modern American English, we usually treat collective nouns as singular. "The company puts out a press release most weeks, but it skipped this week."

In the usage you quote (and sometimes in modern Commonwealth English), the collective noun is being treated as a group of people. "The company put out a press release most weeks, but they skipped this week."

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  • It's not actually so black and white. It's easy to pull up plenty of present-day examples of American English speakers using plural they for companies and organizations. – tchrist Dec 23 '19 at 18:56
  • 'In the usage you quote (and sometimes this occurs in modern Commonwealth English), the collective noun is being treated as a group of people.' though you could probably get away with 'In the usage you quote (and sometimes in modern Commonwealth English), the collective noun is treated as a group of people.' Though the punctive and the habitual are sneakily conflated in the latter. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 23 '19 at 19:53
  • @tchrist 'The House of Commons shall choose its Speaker' sounds faintly cartoonish, with an animated Palace of Westminster stroking its chin. Obviously there has to be some degree of notionality / logical fiddle with any form of agreement here. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 23 '19 at 20:01
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The quoted sentence is using "House of Representatives" to mean members of that body. So the plural pronoun is perfectly appropriate, 232 years ago and now.

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