Everybody Are Not Happy With This

Cringe if you must, but “everybody . . . their” is standard English.

It wasn’t my idea. I’m not advocating it. I’m simply reporting it.

For the past several months I have been collecting examples of that usage, and the results are conclusive. “Everybody . . . their” (or everyone, anyone, anybody ) is the construction universally used in speech, and it is gaining way in writing.

This phenomenon might seem to be an indirect result of the feminist movement, which has made the masculine generic pronoun unpopular. We may no longer say “Will everyone put on his hat?” since it seems to exclude females. The obvious alternative is “Will everyone put on his or her hat?” But many writers detest that form as awkward. The only way out of this dilemma--sexism on one hand, bad prose on the other--is to say, “Will everyone put on their hat?”


Ronald Reagan, himself, when he was President, said “we should also collaborate with our allies and other democracies to make sure that everybody is doing their bit in this. . . .”

I have dozens of examples:

A psychologist, speaking of the Bernhard Goetz subway shooting case: “I think anyone who didn’t register it as some point is really not honest with themselves.”

In a story listing the problems of Carmel: . . . “the Post Office, where everyone must go to pick up their mail. . . .”

From an airplane ad: “Every passenger enjoys their own window. . . .”

Alan Tiger, on being named executive director of the Young Women’s Christian Assn.: “Nobody, no matter who they are, is going to take control if you don’t let them.” Again: “Nobody wants to work for an organization that doesn’t want them.”

Francois Wolff Ligonde, Roman Catholic archbishop of Port-au-Prince, after a massacre: “Everyone is losing their heads.”

A column on Gene Autry’s films: “Every kid in America found their way to them in the little backwater Bijous. . . .”

Again, our former President, discussing the inadequate security at the Marine barracks in Lebanon: “Anyone that’s ever had their kitchen done over knows that it never gets done as soon as you wish it would.” (A presidential mix of pronouns.)

Geraldine A. Ferraro, at a press conference: “Everybody will get their questions answered.”

The examples are abundant; but those should be enough to show acceptance among literate people. The alternatives ( his or her , or even worse, his/her ) will never be accepted by writers who care about their prose, and they are much too fussy to be used in speech.

Linguists are always offering new words to suggest dual gender, such as hir, shem, sa and so forth. No word invented for this purpose will ever catch on. The word must come from the language, as their has.

When we say everyone we mean all . We mean all persons present, or in any designated group; we may mean all Americans, or all persons in the world. We are still reluctant, however, to say “everybody are,” as in “Everybody are supposed to put on their hats.” But that’s the next logical step. Why shouldn’t everybody be considered a collective, like the British crowd, team, company and government , and treated like a plural? Why can’t we say “Are everybody happy?”

But everybody . . . their is well-rooted in literary English. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the following uses for the word everybody : Sir Philip Sidney, described by Britannica as “the best prose writer of his generation”: “Now this king did keep a great house, that everie body might come and take their meat freely;” (1580); no less a literary figure than Lord Byron himself: “Every body does and says what they please.” (1820); and John Ruskin, the impeccable keeper of Victorian taste: “Everybody seems to recover their spirits.” (1866).

In their Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage, Cornelia and Bergen Evans note that the use of everybody with their “has been standard English for four hundred years.” So we can’t blame the feminists.

In his Modern English Usage, the sainted H. W. Fowler concludes that it is a question (whether to say his or her , their , or simply his ) that “everyone must decide for himself (or for himself or herself), or for themselves.”

In observing that everybody . . . their is standard, I am being descriptive, not prescriptive.

As far as I’m concerned, everybody can do what they like. Just say no to his or her or his/her .