Noun-Pronoun Agreement Fail

Hemant Mehta at Friendly Atheist has written a post informing his readers that a “Canadian Postal Worker Complains About Delivering Mail That Goes Against His Deeply-Held Religious Beliefs.” Mehta’s post shows just how far fetched the postal worker’s complaint is, but the fun starts when a grammarian reads and dissects the Toronto Sun article about the postal worker’s complaint.

The Sun article quotes Megan Whitfield, Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) Toronto local president:

“When people are offended they should respect everyone’s rights,” she said. “I understand Canada Post doesn’t censor the mail … but once they became aware they should have done the right thing.”

Whitfield is correct even though she doesn’t realize she is correct. Whitfield has used the incorrect pronoun to refer to Canada Post; however, because an organization is singular, the correct pronoun is it, so reading the sentence as written emphasizes an attitude that everyone should have: When people are offended [people] should respect everyone’s rights.

The temporary worker who refused to deliver mail he found offensive should respect everyone’s rights, which include the rights of the person who paid to have his mail delivered.

Ah yes, noun-pronoun agreement can be amusing at times, and at times, it can communicate what the CUPW president should have said to the postal worker(s): “Deliver all the mail, not just the mail that doesn’t offend you.”

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