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When a customer represents a company, not a person, and a pronoun is needed to refer back to that customer, should one use he/she, or should one use it?

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  • 1
    Apart from the well-known case of she for vehicles and countries, he and she are hardly ever used for inanimates. If you referred to a corporate customer as he, most people would suppose you must be referring to an individual who contacted you from the company.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 6, 2013 at 9:38
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    What does "represents" mean in this question?
    – GEdgar
    Feb 22, 2014 at 1:13
  • @GEdgar: I meant, using the word "customer", but the customer is a company, not a person. Feb 22, 2014 at 19:02

3 Answers 3

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It or they.

Google buys more of our servers than any other company. They have bought 4,000 servers from us.

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  • Me, I would have said they there, not it.
    – tchrist
    Jan 6, 2013 at 9:18
  • Although, now, apparently, corporations are people... So, hey, why not call it he? You think Google is a him or a her? =o)
    – Eli
    Feb 22, 2014 at 0:33
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    But if you use they, then shouldn't you begin with "Google buy more..."? I guess that's the British way.
    – GEdgar
    Feb 22, 2014 at 20:59
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Well, you definitely don’t want to use he, since there is no single male antecedent, nor she for similar reasons.

The notation he/she is severely unappealing for a whole multitude of reasons, but beyond its ugliness, it still won’t work here because there is no single notional individual behind it all.

That leaves you with they or it, either of which is fine. I don’t think a native speaker would bat an eye at either of those two. The difference is subtle, and not worth making a big deal over.

I believe I would be more likely to use they than I would to use it in this circumstance, but I’m not positive. You’d have to catch me doing it when I weren’t thinking about the whole idea, then see what I actually did. Saying it over and over again in my mind has robbed it of any natural spontaneity, and I’m no longer sure what I’d do in practice.

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  • In most contexts, British English would use they. But doesn't American English have a problem with treating ostensibly singular nouns as if they were plural? Jan 6, 2013 at 9:37
  • @BarrieEngland Sometimes, perhaps, but to me they sounds much better here than it. American English does indeed use singular verbs for companies and sports teams, so “Apple has debuted” not have, or “Chicago has decided” not have. But for me at least, only the verb is singular, and then only with the noun itself — not with the pronoun. Therefore in my own speech, the pronoun that goes with those tends to be plural. I think of a company as a “they” more than I think of it as an it — but it depends, as this sentence demos. Depends whether I’m thinking of the firm as people, maybe.
    – tchrist
    Jan 6, 2013 at 9:46
  • So would this be a normal sentence in AmEng? ‘The company has made a substantial loss and they must review their options carefully.’ Jan 6, 2013 at 9:56
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    @BarrieEngland Well, it would certainly be a normal sentence for me, but I am contaminated. :)
    – tchrist
    Jan 6, 2013 at 9:59
  • @Barrie: I think I would use "it" in your example: "The company has made a substantial loss, and it must review its options carefully", but "they" in the example: "Google buys more of our servers than any other company. They have bought ...". But neither pronoun would be wrong in AmE for either example. What is wrong is saying "Google have ...". Jan 6, 2013 at 14:51
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'It/they' are totally okay. However, 'she' is also recommended considering organization/agencies, just as human beings, countries and vehicles, are also productive, hold lives of employees and give forth career growth opportunities etc. Use it! 'He' is not appropriate though - even countries are hardly ever referred to as 'he' unless in French vocabulary

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