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When the user selects ... a variable that they want to monitor...

English translation: other options

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14:30 Apr 6, 2004
English to English translations [PRO]
Engineering (general) / Grammar, just making sure :-)
English term or phrase: When the user selects ... a variable that they want to monitor...
This is from a brochure I'm translating into DE, but we're also doing the DTP for the EN version:
When the user selects and displays a variable that they want to monitor...

The "they" confuses me. Shouldn't it read "When users select..." or is this an artful trick only native speakers can appreciate? TIA
Klaus Herrmann
Germany
Local time: 03:54
English translation:other options
Explanation:
rewrite sentence "when the user selects a variable in order to monitor it" or "when the user selects a variable for the purposes of monitoring" (puts the emphasis on the variable - it)

(see example)
Exposing object properties in C++
... When the user selects a variable from the drop down list, the editor pops up a control in a modal dialog box which allows the user to enter a new value. ...
bpeers.com/articles/objectproperty/

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Note added at 24 mins (2004-04-06 14:54:49 GMT)
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in answer to your note: it is grammatically incorrect to use \"they\" when referring to \"a user\"
Selected response from:

RHELLER
United States
Local time: 19:54
Grading comment
Thanks to all who contributed. I needed to make sure that I wasn't going to look stupid when telling a hotshot, native-language copy-writer I noticed a grammar problem.
4 KudoZ points were awarded for this answer

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Summary of answers provided
5 +3see comment
Hacene
4 +4see explanation
Ltemes
4 +4other optionsRHELLER
5additional explanation
vixen
4 -2two sets of people here - the user and the persons doing the monitoring ...Craft.Content
3 -1they refers to somebody else
Penelope Ausejo


Discussion entries: 4





  

Answers


4 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 3/5Answerer confidence 3/5 peer agreement (net): -1
when the user selects ... a variable that they want to monitor...
they refers to somebody else


Explanation:
I think the "they" is somebody else.. that's how I understand it.

When the user selects and displays a variable that (e.g. the people that run the program) want to monitor...

I don't know if it makes sense in your text.

Penelope Ausejo
Spain
Local time: 03:54
Specializes in field
Native speaker of: Spanish
PRO pts in category: 4

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  elenus: if we had the whole paragraph, probably that "they" would have been easier to guess...
4 mins
  -> Thx elenus :)

disagree  tectranslate ITS GmbH: We'd have to see the whole paragraph, true, but I've seen it being used for a single person before, see Ltemes answer and my "agree" on that. Just my opinion, though.
9 mins
  -> thx tectrans :) I guess I was wrong!

neutral  RHELLER: not here
14 mins
  -> thx Rita :)

disagree  Refugio: not in this case
4 hrs
  -> Thx Ruth :)
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8 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +4
when the user selects ... a variable that they want to monitor...
see explanation


Explanation:
I think it's the option for avoiding he/she:
When the user selects... a variable that they (the USER) want to monitor. I think the text includes this option in order to be more inclusive and not have to say: when the user selects... a variable that HE/SHE (i.e. the user) wants to monitor.

If it was PLURAL: "the users", then the verb would also have to change and it would read: when the users SELECT ... a variable that they want to monitor.

Ltemes
United States
Local time: 18:54
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish, Native in SpanishSpanish

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  tectranslate ITS GmbH: Yes, I've also seen this artful trick with "customer" or "client" before - in PC English you want to avoid saying "he" or "she".
2 mins
  -> that's right.

agree  RHELLER
8 mins
  -> thanx!

agree  María Teresa Taylor Oliver: I'm translating a manual where they use this "they" to avoid the "he/she", a practice I consider rather annoying. It's better to use the plural in the whole phrase.
18 mins
  -> I agree on both counts.

agree  Java Cafe: While this practice is somewhat annoying when written, it really bothers me when people I know use it in *speech* to 'protect the anonymity' of their sources.
1 hr
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9 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): -2
when the user selects ... a variable that they want to monitor...
two sets of people here - the user and the persons doing the monitoring ...


Explanation:
I can haphazard a guess about the context.

Visualise a psychological test. 'User' is a person undergoing a test on the computer. There is a set of 'people' monitoring the 'user'. When the user selects and displays a variable that the 'people' are monitoring in their study, then some xxx event is executed.

Alternatively, visualise an interactive TV scenario. The 'user' is a 'TV viewer'. The advt agencies are monitoring tv usage. When the viewer selects some item (icon?) on the TV through his remote clicks, some variable is set, which is trapped by the circuitry and passed on to the monitoring agency. If this variable is the one under study, then the xxx events are triggered.

Am i on track, or totally of the mark ? :-))

Regards,
Sanjay.




Craft.Content
Local time: 07:24
Native speaker of: Native in HindiHindi

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
disagree  tectranslate ITS GmbH: Totally off imho. Sorry! ;)
3 mins
  -> thought so :-))

neutral  RHELLER: way too much speculation
10 mins
  -> As he mentioned, he just wanted to be sure about the grammar :-)

disagree  Refugio: sorry, off track
4 hrs
  -> Yes, his the asker's subsequent comment proved it. :-)
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8 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5 peer agreement (net): +3
when the user selects ... a variable that they want to monitor...
see comment


Explanation:
you will have troubles using a/the user, because after it will have to be referred to as he/she. You cannot use plural for users hence you cannot use they later on. your best bet is to turn the sentence around to render it passive so that you will not have to repeat user(s), he/she, they.
give us the sentence and i'll be able to help you

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Note added at 11 mins (2004-04-06 14:41:11 GMT)
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When the user selects and displays a variable that they want to monitor could become:
when a variable is selected and displayed for monitoring purpose, ...

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 21 mins (2004-04-06 14:51:43 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

in answer to user no: this is bad grammar as there is lack of agreement between subject (the user)and referrent (they)

Hacene
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:54
Works in field
Native speaker of: Native in FrenchFrench
PRO pts in category: 4

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Vicky Papaprodromou
6 mins
  -> cheers Vicky

neutral  tectranslate ITS GmbH: Agree on the he/she issue. However, while your suggestion would work, I figure using the passive is generally considered bad style. And German is (thankfully) not as sensitive to the he/she issue as English seems to be, so I'd stick with the active.
7 mins
  -> fair comment, but independantly from the style, you need to consider the clarity of the message

agree  Marian Greenfield: much better and they is just plain bad English referring to the user
9 mins
  -> cheers Marian

agree  María Teresa Taylor Oliver: Yes, as "politically correct" as it seems, it IS bad grammar, and sounds awkward. However, I don't think the passive voice would work all the time. I'd rework it to use the plural in the whole sentence.
20 mins
  -> yup, but here, the passive structure will only be in the clause introduced by when, then the writer is able to define the subject as he/she pleases. ;-)
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23 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +4
when the user selects ... a variable that they want to monitor...
other options


Explanation:
rewrite sentence "when the user selects a variable in order to monitor it" or "when the user selects a variable for the purposes of monitoring" (puts the emphasis on the variable - it)

(see example)
Exposing object properties in C++
... When the user selects a variable from the drop down list, the editor pops up a control in a modal dialog box which allows the user to enter a new value. ...
bpeers.com/articles/objectproperty/

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 24 mins (2004-04-06 14:54:49 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

in answer to your note: it is grammatically incorrect to use \"they\" when referring to \"a user\"

RHELLER
United States
Local time: 19:54
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 10
Grading comment
Thanks to all who contributed. I needed to make sure that I wasn't going to look stupid when telling a hotshot, native-language copy-writer I noticed a grammar problem.

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Patricia Fierro, M. Sc.
35 mins
  -> thanks Patricia!

agree  Refugio
4 hrs
  -> Thanks Ruth!

agree  vixen
17 hrs
  -> thank you!

agree  ARTES: Good answer!
1 day3 hrs
  -> gracias Arthur!
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18 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5
when the user selects ... a variable that they want to monitor...
additional explanation


Explanation:
Using "they/them" with a singular subject seems to become more common, but is grammatically incorrect. Besides, it can lead to misunderstanding, as some of the answers proved.

As Rita pointed out, the sentence can be rewritten to avoid the he/she issue. This is the preferred method in technical writing.
Make sure to use the active voice, though. Use of the passive voice does not improve the user's understanding.

In manuals, the issue can often be avoided by addressing the user directly, e.g. "Enter your password" or "You must provide your password"**. In a brochure, this is not always possible, since the reader is not necessarily the end user.

If a workaround is not possible, the author can use a plural subject, e.g. "If users are confused, they should read about error messages".** This would also be an option for the sentence Klaus is struggling with. There's nothing wrong with "When users select and display a variable that they want to monitor...", except that it sounds slightly more stilted than Rita's suggestion.

Finally, some additional piece of advice from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Technical Writing: "Save "he or she" for times when there really is no other good alternative--then use it without guilt. Occasional use won't trip up the user. The most challenging part of nonsexist writing is simply raising your own awareness about it. Once that's done, incorporating it becomes easier and more natural".

** Examples marked with ** were also taken from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Technical Writing (Alpha Books, 2001).

vixen
Greece
Local time: 04:54
Works in field
Native speaker of: Native in DutchDutch
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