I’ve come across this sentence and found the pronoun-antecedent reference quite confusing:

I am led to believe that account is not genuine about their country of origin.

Is this a common or acceptable usage in the technology age?

I understand the concept of using the gender-neutral they/them/their for a singular individual, but I would not have considered “account” to be an individual. Does the fact that an account can (in these times be considered to) have agency warrant the use of the personal singular pronouns his/her/their, or should an account be referred to as “it”?

There was no other antecedent the author could have been referring to, and in many cases an account may be more than one person, so account holder or user doesn’t always work.

Background information:

Merriam Webster offers this definition: 3a(1) : a formal business arrangement providing for regular dealings or services (such as banking, advertising, or store credit) and involving the establishment and maintenance of an account a checking account also : CLIENT, CUSTOMER They are one of our most important accounts.

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    The antecedent for their is in a preceding sentence somewhere. For example: They told us where they came from. I am led to believe [that] that account is not genuine about their country of origin. Oct 31, 2021 at 3:15
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    Quite apart from the fact that many/most native speakers wouldn't accept this use of the noun account (to mean the account holder), I don't think the usage is not genuine is a suitable alternative to lied. So I suggest OP's text should be changed to I am led to believe that account holder lied about their country of origin (or gave inaccurate information, if lied seems a bit strong for the context). Oct 31, 2021 at 12:12
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    This further demonstates the point that the speaker is attributing agency to the account; they avoided “account holder” and “lied” because the agent is the account, which may have more than one holder, and doesn’t “lie” the way a person does
    – Lisa P
    Oct 31, 2021 at 13:18
  • The fundamental problem, as I think FF observes, is with 'the account is not genuine about'. A sentient referent 'he/she is // they are not [being] genuine about ...' is idiomatic. ////'[T]heir' can only acceptably be used to refer to plural referents, or singular human referents of as yet unrevealed gender. Not animals or inanimate referents (even allowing for personification). Oct 31, 2021 at 14:44
  • This appears to be an attempt to shoehorn 'genuine' (and perhaps 'account') into [an] unnatural place/s in a sentence. 'They did not give a/n ADJ account of their early life' is natural with 'truthful' or 'accurate'; 'genuine' is somewhat less idiomatic. 'We have a genuine account of ...' means that the account is accurately recorded, whether factually true or not. Nov 1, 2021 at 16:11

2 Answers 2


Actually yes. As strange as it may sound, "account" refers to a person, in this instance. If you use Twitter, for instance, you will frequently see users use the word "account" as a synonym for "user." To convince myself of this, I searched for the phrase "one of the worst accounts," which was the first phrase I tried that sifted out other meanings of "account" ("this account is," for instance, turns up mostly remarks about newspaper stories). Here are some examples I found (no offense to the users in question; I do not know who any of these people are and have no opinion about their Twitter presences):

Mark Jackson Burner is the WORST burner account on here and is genuinely one of the worst accounts on Twitter dude. He is just really unfunny I can’t remember ever laughing at a tweet of his


I can’t believe some of my mutuals follow this MF. This Easter Island looking ass dude is one of the worst accounts on here. Know he’s a Grade A weirdo.


Just want to add to this excellent thread that Rex Chapman is one of the worst accounts on this platform and RT-ing him is the kind of thing you may be asked about at the doors to the afterlife.


I found some more with "this account uses." Still everyone's pretty negative, but again, not familiar with the people being criticized:

Not really. The way this account uses it it's, "Get mad at what we post unless it turns out to be fake, in which case it's satire."


@twittersupport this account uses your service to [harass] underage women and men [with] their photos, doxxing and threatening them


If we accept that "account" has the meaning of "user," then clearly it may be used with possessive pronouns too -- "some accounts constantly insult their own followers," for instance, would logically be a sentence that I might write with this meaning.

If I might speculate on how this usage came to be, it's normal on Twitter for there to be accounts which are operated by more than one person. It would seem strange to refer to the Nestle Twitter account as a "user." But most Twitter accounts are just an individual user, so once people started writing things about what they thought about "accounts," or what "accounts" say or do, it was a natural next step to start applying that language to individual-user accounts and conflating the person and the account.

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    Merriam-Webster and Lexico have similar definitions of "account" as "an arrangement in which a person uses the Internet or email services of a particular company". But you're right, I don't think "arrangement" is quite the right word any more - an account in this sense means an identity on a particular Internet service, closer to a persona or avatar than an arrangement for access like paying someone to watch cable TV.
    – Stuart F
    Dec 2, 2021 at 22:09

No, using "their" would be implying that the account is a being, like a person. For inanimate or abstract things, one would avoid using personal pronouns. The word "its" is the appropriate word here.

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    Unless you can be certain of the context of the sentence, your assumption that "their" refers to "that account" is likely to be incorrect. Most native speakers would assume that the author of the sentence, in deliberately choosing "their" rather than "its", is necessarily referring to the country of origin of the person who gave the account. Oct 31, 2021 at 6:34
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    There was no previous antecedent; the author clearly thought of the account as having agency, so I was wondering if others agreed with this usage
    – Lisa P
    Oct 31, 2021 at 11:00
  • @LisaP - Are you sure this is about a business account and not a retelling of an occurrence as from a witness?
    – Jim
    Oct 31, 2021 at 17:57
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    Most native speakers would not interpret 'account' to stand for the holder of the account; such usage of the word is confined to a certain business jargon which is spoken by only a minority of the speakers of the language.
    – jsw29
    Nov 1, 2021 at 16:16
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    Is it possible that in addition to being business jargon as jsw mentioned, it's also used by Gen Z for online accounts to stand in for "user"? Maybe I should mention that I'm a native speaker.
    – Lisa P
    Nov 1, 2021 at 17:16

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