I am having a debate at work regarding the correct choice:

No investor has ever lost its capital.


No investor has ever lost their capital.

It seems to sound awkward to say "its capital" as opposed to "their capital". We are referring to a single investor (in a context where all investors are institutional entities).

  • "event lost their..."? Neither alternative is appealing, though the latter is slightly preferable to the former (unless the single investor is a corporation!) I would suggest "No investor ever lost capital" presumably followed by something like "by investing with us" or "by following these guidelines" – Dilip Sarwate Jan 19 '12 at 18:21
  • 2
    There might be (largely pointless) debate over his/her/their, but this one is just too basic. I'm now flagging such questions "too localised", because they're only relevant to questioners with very limited familiarity with English. – FumbleFingers Jan 19 '12 at 18:30
  • 1
    @Irene: I don't follow you. Surely you don't mean there was extended debate on whether a noun like "investor" is normally referenced by the inanimate pronoun "it"? OP here is clearly not thinking in terms of institutional investors like banks and pension funds. – FumbleFingers Jan 19 '12 at 19:30
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers I am not sure if you are implying that this question is too ridiculous to come from someone quite familiar with English (such as a native speaker). This question is a result of a heated debate in my office with all Americans. Our clients span the globe and we were trying to determine the best answer. Are we not allowed to submit questions without being critized for using this forum for questions that may seem to you too basic? – Shannon Jan 19 '12 at 22:34
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers PLEASE could people not use it's in place of its as in "....for neuter "it's (where I'd...." or "...uneasy about "it's" is because..." or "...of course you can use "it's"....", especially when fine points are being debated? – Dilip Sarwate Jan 20 '12 at 2:56

No problem. Singular they covers this situation perfectly.

Note, by the way, that the Noun Phrase no investor is neither singular nor plural - it's Zero.
Zero is not one and it's not more than one. So assigning Singular to it is purely arbitrary,
no matter how many investors there are.

The point is thus not whether no investor is singular or plural, but rather that
no investor is non-referential. That's the kind of Noun Phrase that singular they gets used with.

| improve this answer | |
  • Nor, I might add, after viewing the discussion above, is it the point whether no investor is neuter or human. They/their/them is completely appropriate in all these cases -- legal real humans, real legal humans, illegal real humans, animals, things, Martians, whatever. – John Lawler Jan 20 '12 at 2:08
  • +1 for opening my eyes to the non-singular, non-plural status of "no investor". But I'd like to give you a -1 at the same time for doing my head in over whether there even is a word for "singularity/plurality status" - and if so, what the hell is it? – FumbleFingers Jan 20 '12 at 4:39
  • Number. Singular number, plural number, dual number, paucal number. Person, number, gender, and case are the usual inflectional categories for Latin nouns (and adjectives; the Romans didn't distinguish them, since they behaved the same morphologically). – John Lawler Jan 20 '12 at 11:27
  • oic. So here on ELU "number category" or "number class" (in quotes) might be a reasonable way of indicating what some people see as a difference between "its" and "their"? I like that "paucal number" - never come across it before. – FumbleFingers Jan 20 '12 at 11:52
  • Nah, just Number; no "category" or "class" needed; it just confuses things. Singular is short for singular number, after all, just like Accusative is short for accusative case, and nobody would say "case class" here, would they? (I hope :-) – John Lawler Jan 20 '12 at 14:45

We tend not to use "its" for people. One would say

No investor has ever lost his or her capital.

or more simply

No investor has ever lost their capital.

although "their" as a gender-neutral singular possessive is not universally accepted.

| improve this answer | |
  • The OP actually clarified that they are not talking about people. "These [investors] are all institutional entities." – David Schwartz Feb 26 '12 at 0:29

I think its is fine only if all investors are neuter, such as companies or pension funds. It fails if any of them are human.

For me their works in these situations. Others may disagree

But you can avoid the "singular they" and gender issues by saying

No investors have ever lost their capital.

| improve this answer | |
  • No, an investor is a person, and a person can never be an it. An it is marked as inanimate. Persons are animate. "It" doesn't mean neuter in English, you know. – tchrist Jan 20 '12 at 0:25
  • @tchrist: I think you will find Google is an investor in Zynga. It is an investor in other companies too. – Henry Jan 20 '12 at 0:58
  • Google is hardly a person now, are they? – tchrist Jan 20 '12 at 2:31
  • @Henry: I'm sure you don't need me to defend your corner, but have an upvote anyway. And consider we are an investor, which I've no doubt was invariably written in a context where "we" is in fact a company, not a monarch using the "regal 'we'". – FumbleFingers Jan 20 '12 at 4:25

To me, their just reads better, even knowing all investors are institutional entities. There is nothing wrong with its though (provided it's entirely clear you're not talking about individuals). This is purely a question of style.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.