More his/her/their agony

Charles Butler hannibal at
Tue Dec 9 11:17:12 EST 2003

This afternoon I found myself struggling with a sentence that raised the
pronoun problem in a particularly grisly form. A sister is talking about her
brother, and the point she's making is that their faults and virtues are
complementary, so that each of them is made to feel smug by observing the
foibles of the other. She's *talking*, mind, so a degree of colloquialism is
not a problem. As a first cut, I came up with this:

'We're a perfect match. Each of us confirms the other in our own good
opinion of ourselves.'

'Ourselves' doesn't seem quite right here. Apart from the question of number
agreement it's the sister's good opinion of *herself* that's confirmed, not
her good opinion of her brother (indeed, it's rather at his expense); and
the same goes for him vis a vis her. The plural tends to disguise that. So
here's attempt number two:

'We're a perfect match. Each of us confirms the other in his or her own good
opinion of his or herself.'

Well, it's grammatically impeccable, and marvellously unambiguous, but
nobody talks like that. So here's number three:

'We're a perfect match. Each of us confirms the other in their own good
opinion of themselves.'

Again, it's not immediately clear here whether 'their' and 'them' refer to
both siblings or just one, or maybe someone else altogether.

Right now, I'm think I'll ditch the sentence altogether, but if anyone can
suggest a better variation on this theme I'd be interested to know it!


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