ENGLISCH/850: Questions to Mrs. Gobbledygook (164) Enjoying themselves (SB)


164. Everyone is enjoying themselves or herself/himself?

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

... and to put it in a nutshell the point is, I just wonder whether the sentence:

"Everyone is enjoying themselves" instead of "they are all enjoying themselves" is correct or not? ...


Sven O. (from Sweden)


Dear Mr O.

Well, you are quite right. The second sentence "they are all enjoying themselves" is perfectly correct if we take the idea of a lot of people enjoying themselves. But if the sentence starts with "everyone is enjoying ..., which is the correct word to follow?

Now, the idea is many people, so it should be "themselves", "everyone is enjoying themselves". On the other hand "everyone" is grammatically singular. We say "everyone is" and not "everyone are". So should we say: "Everyone is enjoying himself/herself"?

Very strictly speaking, the last version is grammatically correct. But very few people use it that way. For one thing it suggests that "everyone" is here a group of one sex (just men or just women). The most frequent usage, especially in conversation is "everyone is enjoying themselves". But again some people think, that this version doesn't sound quite right. So one thing you can do about it, as I always recommend in the case of controversial usage, is to avoid the form, which courses disagreements. Say it in a different way. For example you can use the second sentence, you wrote in your question: "They are all enjoying themselves". Or you can change the verb and say: "Everyone is having a wonderful time" instead. This is in short my advise to handle your problem. Have a good time,


Mrs Gobbledygook

26 May 2009