- Users will see three choices on their screen(s).
- Clients must update their account(s) before the end of the month.
- Patients may leave their bed(s) during visiting hours.
- Employees must wash their hand(s) before leaving.
Do we talk about the end users, or clients, or patients, or employees in the singular or in the plural? And then when those individuals have screens, or devices, or symptoms, or workspaces, are those singular or plural as well?
We have already mostly solved this problem when directly referring to those we are training. We just call them "you," and think of them as receiving the training one-on-one, so that we say "click your mouse" and "save your file," using the singular without a second thought.
But when we are training our learners to deal with other people--software users, clients, patients, employees--how do we talk about them?
The good news is that the rules of grammar are relaxed here, and we can use singular or plural as it makes sense.
We are probably going to talk about those third parties in the plural--users, clients, etc.-so as to avoid the "his or her" problem. We want to avoid this:
The client must update his or her account by the end of the month. His or her name and address must match his or her ID card.
So we use the plural: Clients must update their account(s)...
This is where the grammar loophole comes in. You are allowed (see, Grammar is not so draconian, after all) to use the singular if each client has only one account. Or, if one client might have several accounts, then you can go ahead and use the plural.
Let's look at the other examples.
Users will see three choices on their screen.
Since each computer user will be seeing the choices on one screen (even if they have dual monitors, typically they will be looking at one at a time) you can go with screen.
Patients may leave their bed during visiting hours.
Each definitely has only one bed. Singular sounds better.
Employees must wash their hands before leaving.
Each most likely has two hands, so plural makes sense.
The students all raised their hand.
In a classroom (unlike, say, on the dance floor), each most likely raised just one of their hands.
What makes this a true grammar loophole is that you can still use the plural if it sounds right, even if each person has only one of the items in question. Give it a try in the challenge, and we will see what the consensus is.
Plural or Singular Challenge
- The audience waved their hand/s in the air.
- The kids stood on their chair/s.
- The diners raised their glass/es.
- Despite the economic setback, the renters all paid their rent/s.
- The kids all looked at their iPad/s.
- The learners clicked their right mouse button/s.
- The employees entered their client/'s or s' name/s into the database.