HomeQ&ASomebody hasn't done their homework

Somebody hasn't done their homework

5
votes

I only just watched the film "Mr. Brooks" , fascinating if you ask me.....I love weird people.

Well, in one of the scenes, (three men, Kevin Kostner, alter ego and a guy) the alter ego is talking to Kevin Kostner. The other guy who was supposed to look up a name or something hasn't. So the alter ego says:

Somebody hasn't done their homework.

Why does he use their here''

7857 views
updated DIC 18, 2009
posted by 00494d19

39 Answers

6
votes

From the point of view of strict/traditional English grammar somebody=someone and it is emphatically singular. Thus, Heidita is absolutely correct. It should be "Somebody hasn't done his homework." and a careful speaker of English would always say it that way (at, least in formal/semi-formal speech). However, two things have tended to undermine this correct usage: 1) sloppy script writers of TV scripts and 2) the Women's Liberation movement. One of the major misfortunes (from the philologist's point of view) of this movement has been it's convincing many people that any general statement that is meant to apply to people in general (i.e. males and females [or, equivalently, to a person of unspecified sex]) should be cast in the plural or should use some sort of ad hoc construction (e.g. "he/she" or "(s)he")
or be deemed "politically incorrect"/"male chauvanist".

In the U.S. (at least) many people have capitulated to this pressure and taken to using "their" where "his" (or "they" for "he") was traditionally used (thereby throwing 400 years of English language tradition out the window). There are also those whos would say "his or her homework" in this situation but since that takes three syllables rather than just one ...

updated DIC 17, 2009
posted by samdie
3
votes

It's singular they and it isn't incorrect English. It is used for many constructions including those that are gender unspecific, and to reduce blame, reponsibility...it is also necessary for many tongue in cheek jokes. Yes it wasn't always used but guess what? Languages evolve and singular they is a great thing.

http://motivatedgrammar.wordpress.com/2009/09/10/singular-they-and-the-many-reasons-why-its-correct/

updated DIC 18, 2009
edited by chaparrito
posted by jeezzle
My thoughts exactly. We don't talk like Shakespeare for the same reason. :-) - chaparrito, DIC 16, 2009
It is, strictly speaking, incorrect. - idahorsegirl, DIC 17, 2009
Who would be the one strictly speaking that way? Did you read the link jeezzle posted? ;-) - chaparrito, DIC 18, 2009
Hey jeezzle! I just changed your reference to a link. Hopefully it will make it easier and people will go there and read it. Very good link! :-) - chaparrito, DIC 18, 2009
3
votes

Ok, I took the bait. Someone just voted on one of the posts in this thread and by doing so they caught my attention. I know this is an old thread (what year? 09? 08?) but it is a curious discussion that I found enlightening and entertaining. I did some research and found a Wiki article on 'Singular They' and also a comical consideration of this topic that I wanted to paraphrase:

source: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jlawler/aue/they.html


The way I see it, one really has a number of choices in cases where pronouns must be used and the gender is either.

When somebody comes to see you, you should offer ___ coffee.

You can use he/she, he or she, s/he, or some other kludgy phrase. This offends just about everybody, including most likely the speaker ___self, because it is a kludge. It's polysyllabic and syntactically complex, and it draws attention to its political correctness at the expense of its sense and reference. It's distracting, and it's a poor informational strategy because of that, just as misspelling is a poor informational strategy in writing. What one normally wants in a pronoun is something monosyllabic and unstressed that won't draw any attention. After all, we already know who we're talking about, or we wouldn't be using a pronoun in the first place. This is a lose-lose situation.

Then there are two conventional solutions that violate one Rule of Grammar each, and therefore incense some people. Which people they incense depends on which Rule of Grammar is being violated -- there are several different Special Interest Groups involved.

You can use he generically, which violates the Rule of Grammar that says that he is Masculine, and therefore can't be used with Feminine reference, even Indefinite Feminine reference, just as you can't use it.

You can use they generically, which violates the Rule of Grammar that says that they is Plural, and therefore can't be used with Singular reference, even Indefinite Singular reference, just as you can't use we.

Neither rule seems to me worth dying for, since they're just generalizations about number and gender agreement, and Number and Gender are just abstract grammatical properties. ...

Some people do get very exercised about grammar, nonetheless. Different people with each rule, in fact.

The people who get upset about violating Rule 1, the gender agreement rule, tend to be women, and men who don't feel like excluding women.

The people who get upset about violating Rule 2, the number agreement rule, on the other hand, tend to be people who don't know much about language, of both genders.

If offense be inevitable, I would personally prefer not to offend people because of their sex, which they really aren't responsible for; but I don't mind nearly so much offending people because of their ignorance.


smile

updated DIC 17, 2009
posted by chaparrito
3
votes

It is a figure of everyday speech.
Instead of saying "Somebody hasn't done his homework.", (which would be perfectly correct English) he says "Somebody hasn't done their homework." - this way of saying it adds a subtle flavor of ironic impact to the dialogue..

updated DIC 16, 2009
posted by robin5
"adds a subtle flavor of ironic impact" - I agree with this. - cheeseisyummy, DIC 16, 2009
2
votes

Heidita said:

Yes, shouldn't it be "his" homework...as he is referring to the guy, too?


By saying somebody hasn't done their homework, he's making a general statement not specifying who hasn't done their homework. It's said that way tongue in cheek because it is obvious who hasn't done their homework! It's a little joke really.

updated DIC 16, 2009
posted by tad
1
vote

I just noticed that this "singular their" for unspecified gender is all over Facebook. "Joe Blow found a cow on their farm." "Jane Doe sent hearts to their friends" etc. This probably doesn't add much to the discussion, but perhaps speaks to how widely used this construction is. smile

updated DIC 18, 2009
posted by Valerie
Well, honestly, it seems strange to say Jane Doe sent hearts to their friends. In my area, if we name the person, we are more likely to use the correct singular pronouns and not the gender-neutral 3rd person plural. - webdunce, DIC 18, 2009
1
vote

tad said:

humor is less than 400 years old samdie
Is there/their/they're some sort of typo here? Word(s) missing? Or is this, too/two/to meant to be taken as humorous'

updated DIC 17, 2009
posted by samdie
I'm chuckling here. Very funny... - 0057ed01, DIC 17, 2009
1
vote

I did find this article which hopefully might allay Natasha´s gripe.

they/their/theirs
They is the third person plural pronoun, which means that it refers to more than one person. In the second half of the 20th century, however, it has become increasingly common to use it as an indefinite pronoun which could refer to just one person.

There is a range of indefinite words in English ? anybody, anyone; everybody, everyone; nobody, no one; somebody, someone; either, neither, each ? which traditionally have been used with the masculine singular pronoun: If anyone finds my glasses, could he let me know? In this role, the masculine pronoun notionally has an indefinite function, covering women as well as men.

However, it has come more and more to be seen as invidious to use a masculine pronoun to refer to women, and users of the language have been seeking an alternative. He or she, and she or he, are cumbersome, especially if they need to be repeated several times, and anyway they give precedence to males or females. Increasingly they, together with its possessive forms their and theirs, is becoming the preferred option: If anyone finds my glasses, could they let me know?

It is not yet completely established in standard English, and some people still object to it, but its usefulness is widely recognized, and it seems likely that in due course it will become generally accepted.

Remember that the third person plural possessive adjective is their: They've sold their house. Don't confuse it with the adverb there, 'in that place' or with they're, which is the shortened form of 'they are'.

The third person plural possessive pronoun is theirs (not their's): If this is theirs, they'd better take it.

updated DIC 17, 2009
posted by Eddy
1
vote

Natasha said:

Well, this could lead to a very interesting discussion of the philosophy of language . . . I think we have quite sabotaged Heidita's thread at this point!!

I would just like to mention that these kind of discussions make this forum quite unique and great. None of this would be permitted on other language forums, where discussions like this would be deleted as "off topic".

Personally I find this fascinating.Especially seeing that natives do not agree on this point. Makes me feel less weird, as I thought inmediatly that that had to be a mistake. (wink, wink)

updated DIC 16, 2009
posted by 00494d19
1
vote

This is interesting. The use of the phrase is not intended to eliminate gender or for any other politically correct motive. It is not an error by the writers. It is simply a way to say something "tongue in cheek" as others have said. It portrays a certain connotation that can only be understood by using the given construction.

Linguistics has long battled over the way languages have been defined. Two distinct approaches to linguistics developed - prescriptive which is the traditional thought that a language has a strict and unchanging definition and descriptive which is a more modern look that believes in studying the way language is actually used in real life.

There are examples of grammatical mistakes in Spanish as well. For example, the use of "Me se ha olvidado" or "siéntensen" or even the addition of an 's' to the preterite, like "amastes".

If you feel that there is only one way to use a language and that the definition was developed sometime in the past and doesn't deviate from that definition then consider yourself a follower of prescriptive linguistics. Followers of descriptive linguistics, on the other hand, believe that the only languages that don't change are the ones that are no longer used. Descriptive linguists don't try to analyze the grammatical correctness of the use of a language, but instead try to understand in what circumstances various phrases and constructions are used.

updated DIC 16, 2009
posted by Mark-W
1
vote

Heidita, everybody "knows" this is not correct English, but we still talk this way. (It would be bad to write this way, say, in a paper for school.)

Here they would say to you: "You should be a school teacher!" -- because traditionally school teachers were always correcting this sort of mistake.

Of course, as samdie pointed out, he should have said: Somebody hasn't done his homework.

/gripe/

The his or her formulation bugs me . . . but that's my personal opinion and could get me in trouble! hehe!

/end gripe/

updated DIC 16, 2009
posted by Natasha
1
vote

Actually I've never even noticed all that up until now, but those options all remove the irony or tongue-in-cheekness from the statement. 'Their' while grammatically correct or not makes it vague as to both the sex and the number of the offenders even though usually in that situation it is clear who the offender is. The joke is lost with any other formulation.
Yes I know tongue-in-cheekness is probably not good English!

updated DIC 16, 2009
posted by tad
0
votes

It is not really an attempt at being politically correct. It has been done this way in the southeast for as long as I can remember, and the southeastern USA is not exactly a hotbed of feminism.

If a person is introduced by a gender-neutral term, then they / their / them is used elsewhere to refer back to that gender-neutral term. If the person is introduced by a term that somehow signifies gender, then they / their / them may be used OR the gender-specific terms like he / him / his or she / her / hers may be used. It doesn't matter if the gender of the person is obvious (for instance, if the person is standing right there beside you)...it depends on the gender specificity or neutrality of the initial term.

That guy (this term specifies gender) hasn't done his (so, we'll specify gender here, too) homework.

Somebody (this term is gender neutral) hasn't done their (so, we'll use 3rd person plural) homework.

It is extremely common. In fact, it sounds kind of weird to me to do it the "proper way." I have spoken this way since I was a child (again, proof it is not some sort of PC thing). But, in formal writing, such usage should generally be avoided.

updated DIC 17, 2009
edited by webdunce
posted by webdunce
0
votes

Well I think this is a totally common way of saying it. When we don't know or don't mean to specify a specific person we often use They are Their etc even if that person is not plural.

If someone loses their library card, they need to pay $2.50 for a replacement.

Tell whoever is making that noise that they need to turn their radio down!

Anyway, I think that when he says ''Somebody hasn't done their homework." he is saying it very passively, a way of being smug or snotty by pretending to not speak of someone in particular. I think it's alright to say in this case.

updated DIC 17, 2009
posted by 003487d6
Is it all right to mention that "alright" really should be spelled "awrighty?" (Point being there ain't no such word as "alright." Last I heard, anyways.) - 0057ed01, DIC 17, 2009
0
votes

I'm answering just to bring up a spot that hasn't yet been touched on in the article. While the singular they isn't technically correct, it is widely used, and I'm not discouraging anyone from using it. However, in formal papers, and in other high-level speech, one should avoid the use of the singular they. In order to avoid being either sexist or incorrect, one would say "he or she", or in the context of Heidita's question, "his or hers". Alternatively, I've also read formal papers in which the author avoided the appearance of sexism by alternating he or she and his or hers to show an indefinite gender.

updated DIC 17, 2009
edited by idahorsegirl
posted by idahorsegirl
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