Single Nouns Should Not Double-Date Writing & Grammar

Hello everyone:

Let me share with you a couple of very common mistakes I see when grading students’ essays: the use of a single noun with a plural pronoun and the use of possessive apostrophes when they only mean to use a plural noun.

Folks, where were you when your teachers told you about this in writing class? Here’s the politically incorrect idea here: If you have a single noun (student) and want to use a pronoun with it, you need to use a single pronoun (his or her). Do not use the word “they.” That is a plural pronoun and should be utilized when you are writing about  more than one student (students). Here are some examples of what I mean:

“A student should make sure their homework is done on time.” Nope.

“A student should make sure his or her homework is done on time.” Yep.

“Students should make sure their homework is done on time.” Yep.

Yes, I know that today some folks talk about “zim” and “zer” but those are, in my humble opinion, still single. They should not double-date.

The other issue is when a student means to have more than one noun but uses a possessive apostrophe with the noun. For example, he or she might write the following:

“In that situation, all fee’s could be waived.” Nope. [That was from a senior in college, by the way.] This student MIGHT have meant “In that situation, all fee is could be waived.”  Since there was nothing that the word “fees” was possessing, I have to assume that the individual meant “fee is” but it just doesn’t work with the rest of that sentence. Double nope.

What the student meant to write was the following:

“All fees could be waived.” Yep.

Hope this helps! Have a superb day!

Dr. Sheri


Sheri Dean Parmelee has a Ph.D. in Communication Studies from Regent University. She writes books on practical tips for people who become unexpectedly unmarried and is working on her second novel in a series of contemporary romance/suspense novels. She teaches at three colleges, working with students from freshmen to graduate students. Her hobbies include running 8 miles a day and reading biographies and fiction.

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