Facebook "Grammer"

Here is a snippet of a conversation that I read on the “Good Grammar Is Hot” Facebook group:

Teresa S:
Is anyone else bothered by Facebook grammer?

I am sick of Facebook telling me that someone edited ‘their’ picture. It should, of course, be ‘his or her’. “George edited their picture” simply doesnt make any sense.

The best response:

Abby S:

I baked cookies for my grammer.


Teresa was discussing that in the news feed and you make an update, it will say, “Kate updated her interests. Kate changed her profile picture.”

However, if you elect not to have a gender on Facebook, it will read, “Kate updated their interests. Kate changed their profile picture.”

That is not correct. So many people say this, but none of them are right. Their is reserved for plurals only; it is not an alternative to his or her or one’s.

However, I’ll go out on a limb and say that I wouldn’t be surprised if this rule is completely destroyed a few decades down the road, and their will reign supreme.

That doesn’t mean I have to like it.


14 responses to “Facebook "Grammer"

  1. I’m sure you’re right about “their” gaining legitimacy and full-fledged acceptance within a couple generations. Me? I’m planning on kvetching about it till the day I die.

  2. Narges can back me up on this. I think the best term would be a new hybrid: herm.

    As in her + him = herm. It is completely ambiguous about one’s gender, and is incontrovertibly hilarious.

    Who’s with me?!

  3. Oddly, “their” doesn’t bother me all that much. Yes, it’s incorrect, but it’s far less clunky than “his or her”. I do like the “herm” idea, though, while I’m pretty sure in a couple of generations “their” will be acceptable, even to grammar snobs like me.

    “Doesnt”, however, doesn’t make any sense, and there is no excuse for spelling “grammar” wrongly on a good-grammar group.

  4. I am 100% behind using “their” when one doesn’t know the gender. Probably because I swear I was taught that at an early age. I’m pretty sure it’s gained legitimacy already, we don’t need to wait another couple decades.

  5. Once agian, if you check many sources, their/they/them is used with singular pronouns when the gender is unknown.

  6. This site was created by Harvard drop-outs. What do you expect? jk jk

  7. I was also taught that “their” is correct to use when the gender is not known.

    And as defined in the Random House Dictionary, “their” means “2. (used after an indefinite singular antecedent in place of the definite masculine form his or the definite feminine form her): Someone left their book on the table. Did everyone bring their lunch?”

  8. I already received your response about where to place punctuation, but I can’t resist pointing this out:

    Teresa, from the Kenston network (in Ohio), placed the period outside the single quotes around “his or her”. I know we have established that she is not an authority (grammer?), but nevertheless, it warms my heart.

    By the way, was it any sort of faux pas, however minor, for Teresa to have used single quotes as she did?

    –Jason S.

  9. In the supplement to our local newspaper there’s a display ad from a business selling “cemetary plots.”

    They’re serious about it. They spell it that way three times in the ad, including the headline.

    Would you buy a plot from somebody who can’t spell “cemetery?” You’d probably spend eturnity pushing up daysies under a mispelled hedstone.

  10. Herb’s funny! I would be sad if their became correct. Has anyone noticed that it’s almost impossible to use an apostrophe instead of a single open quote when abbreviating a year (i.e., ’79). Word processing software developers skipped this little detail. This error occurs when there is a space before the apostrophe and you will see it on most automobile advertisements.

  11. It’s fine to be personally irritated by the use of “their” with singular nouns when the gender is not specific. A lot of people feel this “just sounds wrong,” and this was the rule for a long time. However, to state that it is ungrammatical is simply not true anymore.

    We need to be realists about grammar and language shift, because all languages change and adapt over time. This process is both natural and unavoidable. The “singular their” has developed organically in response to a need that has arisen in our society. “His or her” often works well, but sometimes it’s simply too bulky from a stylistic viewpoint.

    For this reason, and because of the widespread use of singular their in both spoken and written American discourse, most of the “Grammar Authorities,” whoever they are, and whatever we may think of them, have decided this usage is now “grammatically legal.” We’re still in the gap between it becoming legal and becoming widely *accepted.*

    Personally, I think the way language adapts is incredibly fascinating. Rather than desperately clinging to old grammar rules, like grandmothers complaining about hemlines and loud music, why can’t we marvel at the awesome power of language to grow and adapt to our world? I’m all for it!

    By the way, claiming that the singular their is wrong because we wouldn’t say, “George changed their picture” is a totally irrelevant example. In that case, the gender of the subject is completely clear. The singular their is only used in cases where the gender of the subject is unclear or neutral. Even the proponents of the new rule would never use it the way you did in that example.

  12. George may be obvious, but what if it were Taylor or Jordan or Avery?

    Taylor changed their profile picture.

    Androgynous names do make it difficult.

    Personally, I wish that everyone would pick a gender on Facebook to make it easier for us.

  13. “they” and “their” have been used with singular antecedents for 400 years. This technique has been used by such very good writers as Shakepears, Austen, Byron, Thackeray, and Swift.

    It is not a error. It is part of English.

  14. In response to Kate:

    Not everyone fits into a narrowly defined gender binary; therefore, not everyone can pick a gender on Facebook because Facebook only provides two choices. If Facebook provided a function where one could choose what type of pronoun would suit them, it would be much more appropriate than just choosing a gender. For example, I do not identify as female/feminine/woman, but I don’t mind the pronoun ‘she’ as anatomically I am female. So I haven’t chosen ‘female’ as my gender on Facebook, but Facebook hasn’t given me the option to choose ‘she’ as a pronoun so I remain a ‘they’ on the news feed.

    The difference between anatomical sex characteristic and gender makes the discussion much more complex. Facebook’s choices of ‘male’ and ‘female’ as answers to the question of gender are incorrect in and of themselves; the terms ‘male’ and ‘female’ refer specifically to anatomical sex characteristics, not gender.

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