Everyone is required to present their ID before boarding a plane. Did this sentence make you cringe? If it did, what did you find cringeworthy? If it didn’t, do you know what could be wrong with it? (No, it doesn’t have anything to do with the legitimacy of airport security measures.) Instead, it has something to do with this question: Is everyone singular or plural? In this post, we answer this question and explain why it matters.
Is everyone singular or plural?
Yes. Grammar experts agree that everyone is singular in the same way that words like apple and car are singular.
We usually use everyone when we’re talking about a group of people, so it may seem odd to think of it as singular. But remember that when you use the word everyone, you’re describing something about each person in a larger group. And is a person something we would consider singular or plural? If you said singular, you’re right.
Because everyone is singular, we use the singular form of verbs with it. Just take a look at these sentences:
- “Everyone has to fill out a form.”
- “Everyone needs a sign, right?”
- “Did everyone get a copy of the plan?”
How do you know that everyone is paired with singular verbs in these sentences? Replace everyone with Robert and you’ll see that all three sentences still sound grammatically correct.
So the next time someone asks “Is everyone singular or plural?” you can confidently answer “yes!”
Is everyone singular even when we need to use it with pronouns?
Grammar experts agree that everyone is a singular world. What they don’t agree on is what to do when everyone needs to be used with a pronoun. For example, let’s say that we have a sentence like this:
- “Everyone is required to present ____ ID before boarding a plane.”
What should we put in the blank? Most people would write their and end up with this sentence:
- “Everyone is required to present their ID before boarding a plane.”
But ask yourself this: Is their singular or plural? It’s plural, right? But what about everyone? Is everyone singular or plural? It’s singular. This means everyone and their don’t match.
Some grammar experts believe that it’s okay to use plural pronouns like their with everyone. After all, in English, we don’t have a gender-neutral, singular, third-person pronoun. That is, there’s no gender-neutral version of his and her. So some grammar experts think it’s okay to use their with everyone.
The problem is that not everyone agrees, and some people will think you don’t understand grammar if you use everyone with a plural pronoun like their. That’s why we recommend not using everyone with plural pronouns. (We’re on the better-safe-than-sorry side of the fence.)
So what can you do? You have two options:
First, if you can, rephrase the sentence so that you don’t have to use a pronoun. Here’s an example:
- “Everyone is required to present their ID before boarding a plane.” (original)
- “Everyone is required to present ID before boarding a plane.” (revised)
If you can’t rephrase the sentence, move on to Option #2: use his or her or him or her. For example take a look at this change:
- “Everyone needs to bring their first test to the session.” (original)
- “Everyone needs to bring his or her first test to the session.” (revised)
Using his or her or him or her can make a sentence clunky, so avoid using it if you can rephrase your sentence. And definitely avoid having to use this option multiple times in a sentence.
Is everyone singular or is it not?
So what’s the deal: is everyone singular or plural? There’s no debate in the grammar world that everyone is definitely singular. But grammar experts disagree about how to treat everyone when we need to pair it with other words in a sentence.
Some people think it’s fine to use everyone with plural pronouns like their. Others don’t. And because these others exist, we recommend always treating everyone like it’s singular.
Curious about other cases where you should err on the safe side of the grammar divide? Check out our posts on starting a sentence with and, so, or but.