Pronoun precision

Companies, teams and other groups identified by a shared name often give writers pause when it comes time to choose a pronoun to represent those bodies. Take this sentence, for instance:

IBM told investors at their quarterly meeting that a major retooling of its product line was imminent. 

 IBM told investors at its quarterly meeting that a major retooling of its product line was imminent. 

Which is correct? Intuitively, people tend to choose the top sentence because IBM, as a company composed of many people, is not regarded as a monolithic actor or subject. But for the purposes of English grammar, the bottom sentence is correct. And in the case of this particular sentence, using the correct pronoun helps distinguish whether the meeting was held by IBM or the investors.

In fact, “it” is used to refer to any collective body, unless the members of the body, rather than the body itself, are the sentence’s subject. For instance:

The Supreme Court reversed its earlier ruling in a 5-4 decision. 

The Supreme Court justices reversed their earlier ruling in a 5-4 decision. 

One final and reminder: possessive “its” does not use an apostrophe. An incorrectly used “it’s” is a close second to the your/you’re mixup on the list of things that make readers doubt copy’s credibility.

 

Posted in Communicate, Editorial Style, Grammar Diaries

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