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Personal pronouns for companies
Thread poster: patyjs

patyjs  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 00:37
Spanish to English
+ ...
Feb 2, 2016

Is there a standard way to refer to companies when using personal pronouns. I don't know whether to use "its" or "theirs."

For example: XXXX gives you an exclusive gift inspired by its/their (product name).

Thanks


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:37
Spanish to English
+ ...
Depends Feb 2, 2016

Different people, translators, teachers or style guides will offer different guidelines on this. In my case, I follow my own criteria and use the pronoun I feel most comfortable with. Basically, if you think of the company as a group of individual people, then I'd say "they" is appropriate. On the other hand, if you conceive of it as a thing (for example Walmart), then I don't mind referring to "it"...

I have one client (a journal publisher) who recently instructed all his translators not to use they/their/them when referring to companies, but I don't really approve of blanket bans on anything, so I continue to follow my own criteria. So far, the client hasn't complained.

PS: I don't think there's an "official" standard ruling on this. Of course, now that I've said that, someone will doubtless come along in a minute with a conflicting theory. C'est la vie!

[Edited at 2016-02-02 15:42 GMT]

Here's the guideline from the client I mentioned above. I don't know where he got it from.

"Refer to a company in the singular
A company is "it" and takes a singular verb.
Even if translating from a text in which a company is referred to in the plural, please use the singular in English.
Use: it has launched, its exports, it is the top grower
Not: they have launched, their exports, they are the top grower.


[Edited at 2016-02-02 15:45 GMT]

I Googled the first line and found this: http://gipsfrontyard.com/2013/01/29/referring-to-companies-as-it-not-they-may-explain-a-lot/

[Edited at 2016-02-02 15:48 GMT]

[Edited at 2016-02-02 15:48 GMT]

[Edited at 2016-02-03 08:03 GMT]


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Rolf Kern  Identity Verified
Switzerland
Local time: 07:37
English to German
+ ...
theirs Feb 2, 2016

As far as I remember my English education, this applies, because a thing that may be called "a company" always consists of more than one person. Example: an airline like British Airways.

[Bearbeitet am 2016-02-02 16:23 GMT]


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 07:37
English to Polish
+ ...
No single rule but Feb 2, 2016

'His' (i.e. a really personal pronoun) is all right if you're referring to corporate buyers and sellers and other -ors and -ees in the same way a law professor would when teaching class. But this is not something that will strike the average user of English as correct and natural usage. Likely, it will be thought of as an interference from the writer's native language.

'Its' is always okay for anything which is not an adult human, so it's perfectly all right for companies. I use it by default.

'They' is always an option for any collective noun, though details will differ between British and American usage ('the police are investigating', 'the government are considering' etc. sounds more natural in BrE than in AmE, though there is no hard-and-fast rule).

No lawyer in his right mind, however, would connect words such as 'Buyer' or 'Seller' or 'User' etc. with a plural verb. Well, I'm sure someone somewhere has probably done it once or twice, but I've yet to see it even once.


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Jacqueline White
Austria
Local time: 07:37
Hungarian to English
+ ...
My preference is for "it" Feb 3, 2016

I worked at a newspaper for several years, and was trained to use "it". As a result, "they" feels sloppy to me.
I guess it's a matter of preference though.


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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:37
German to English
US and UK English Feb 4, 2016

As Łukasz has already pointed out, there is a major difference here between US and UK usage.

For an American reader, the treatment of company names as collective nouns that take a plural pronoun and the plural form of a verb almost always looks wrong. If the collective sense is more appropriate in a given context, then you really ought to write "The employees of Company X ... they ..." or "The members of the board of Company X ... they ..." or something else that permits you to insert a normal plural subject.

In the UK, the situation is very different and I would guess that the use of "it" often sounds wrong there, it is just hard for me to say exactly when. One solution is to search a newspaper with a good search function (the use of quotation marks to find whole phrases does not work well on some newspaper sites) from the relevant country to see what the pattern for the given situation in a given context is.

I think that this is one of the issues that makes it important to agree to a translation based on US or UK English with our clients, because there is often no "neutral" solution available. (I would say that "it" is not always genuinely acceptable.) The differences between these two versions of English go far beyond spelling and punctuation.

And I just noticed that Łukasz picked an exception to use as an example:
"Police" is (at least generally) a collective noun in the US, so "the police are investigating" is normal US English and "the police is investigating" is clearly wrong. The police are also "they" and not "it". The singular of police is "police officer".

Incidentally, the use of a singular noun (partiuclarly "is") with a plural subject is a stereotypical example of uneducated English, so if someone writes "The police is knocking at the door," readers will probably assume that the person writing is ignorant, not foreign.

[Edited at 2016-02-04 09:34 GMT]


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:37
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Plural Feb 4, 2016

I was taught to understand that companies are plural, so "are" and "their". This was in the late 1980's, and style might have changed since then, but I keep following what I was taught (I'm such a good guy...).

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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:37
Spanish to English
+ ...
Rule of thumb Feb 4, 2016

I just googled "Zara are opening"" and "Zara is opening" to get an idea, albeit random, of usage frequency. The latter got roughly twice as many hits.
Basically, my criterion for deciding which option to use is as follows:
A: Do I consider myself a well-educated, competent reader/speaker of English?
B: if so, when I read the text, paragraph or sentence, does it look/sound/feel okay?
C: Then it probably is. (If in doubt, consult a competent colleague or other authority).


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 07:37
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Play it by ear Feb 4, 2016

I'm British, and when, as some do, they tell you 'we are the leading growers/suppliers/manufacturers ...' or whatever on their English website, I follow suit.

THEY are plural. If in doubt, I can often use expressions like departments, employees and so on, which are not controversial.

In legal documents, as Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz points out, they are singular, and if I really can't use 'the Company' and avoid the pronoun, then I do go for 'it' as a single legal entity.

For individuals like a Dealer or Employee I use natural gender, i.e. 'he' unless I know she is a woman, and then of course 'she'.

Other companies are just singular somehow. I try to decide before I start translating, look at any earlier work I have done mentioning the particuar company, and see what is logical.

If the name sounds plural - DanWidgets, Greencars ... it would sound odd to use 'it' and I tend to go for the plural.
Others do sound singular, but if they talk about themselves a lot as 'we' in their publicity, then I go for the plural anyway.


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Rachel Braff  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:37
Member (2014)
French to English
+ ...
Yes, there are major US/UK differences. Feb 4, 2016

I agree with what others have said, that there are big differences here between US and UK variants (I have no idea about other English variants). To my American ear, it always jumps out at me as "different" when I hear companies or other entities referred to as "they" or with a plural verb. In American English, a company is considered a single entity and always takes a singular verb. There may be a few rare exceptions, and "the police" is one of them; as already pointed out, it's treated as plural.

So I'd say it depends on who the translation is for and where they're located. It sounds like UK English tends use the plural for a company (with some flexibility?), but if the client is American and/or wants an American variant, you would be better off sticking with singular.


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:37
Spanish to English
+ ...
Ways to skin a cat Feb 4, 2016

Rachel Braff wrote:

I agree with what others have said, that there are big differences here between US and UK variants (I have no idea about other English variants). To my American ear, it always jumps out at me as "different" when I hear companies or other entities referred to as "they" or with a plural verb. In American English, a company is considered a single entity and always takes a singular verb. There may be a few rare exceptions, and "the police" is one of them; as already pointed out, it's treated as plural.

So I'd say it depends on who the translation is for and where they're located. It sounds like UK English tends use the plural for a company (with some flexibility?), but if the client is American and/or wants an American variant, you would be better off sticking with singular.


IMHO it goes even further a than a mere US-UK distinction. To my mind, it seems likely that personal wording such as "we/they/our/your" will tend to create a rapport between the message sender and receiver, whereas the more impersonal "it/its" usage has the potential to create a feeling of distance between the two. Well, that's my highly subjective impression anyway.

"We are a friendly company" gets 43,100 results in a Google search. Is it grammatically "wrong"? I'm not sure, but I don't think it really matters.

[Edited at 2016-02-04 11:34 GMT]


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Rachel Braff  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:37
Member (2014)
French to English
+ ...
Colloquial vs. formal US English. Feb 4, 2016

After reading the link neilmac posted, I realized that US English isn't actually as cut and dried as I thought, since the example there reminded me of something. When speaking informally, an American would more likely say, "They have it on their website" ("they" being, say, H&M). However, an American would be very unlikely to say, "H&M have reported record sales"; they would use "has" instead. An American might also say "H&M has it on their website", which I realize is technically incorrect, but is also probably the most natural-sounding way to say it in an informal setting.

So I guess it also depends on whether you're translating something more formal/businesslike or an informal conversation. Sorry to complicate things!


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:37
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Marketing, formality, distancing, personalisation ... Feb 4, 2016

neilmac wrote:
IMHO it goes even further a than a mere US-UK distinction. To my mind, it seems likely that personal wording such as "we/they/our/your" will tend to create a rapport between the message sender and receiver, whereas the more impersonal "it/its" usage has the potential to create a feeling of distance between the two. Well, that's my highly subjective impression anyway.

I agree and it's why I really don't think there can be a single rule, not in British English anyway. Certainly not one rule for all companies, but probably not even one rule for a single company. The company might have a marked preference for one or the other, but there still might be exceptions.
A: Do I consider myself a well-educated, competent reader/speaker of English?
B: if so, when I read the text, paragraph or sentence, does it look/sound/feel okay?
C: Then it probably is. (If in doubt, consult a competent colleague or other authority).

That about sums it up for me too.


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Rachel Braff  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:37
Member (2014)
French to English
+ ...
"We are a friendly company." Feb 4, 2016

Yes, that's a perfect example of how US English would use the plural for a company. You're right, neilmac, it is more complicated than just US/UK (I just saw your comment after I'd posted my last one).

Maybe we can say that in US English you would use "we" to say something dealing with interaction or intent between the company and a client, but use the singular for an observation made from the outside ("H&M targets budget-conscious consumers"). And "we" definitely has a prominent place in marketing because it's more feel-good.


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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:37
German to English
We Feb 4, 2016

I think "we" is a separate issue and it is also certainly perfectly normal for companies in the US to use the first person plural to refer to themselves. Obviously that makes sense from a marketing perspective and, practically speaking, there is not really any other option, unless they refer to themselves in the third person all the time, which would be entirely bizarre in most contexts.

My issue is the following:
If I do a phrase search at the Guardian for "Coca-Cola are", then the first hit is: "Coca Cola are paying to have their brand and logo everywhere ..."

It is a pain to search the New York Times for phrases, but using a workaround through a Google advanced search, I can see that none of the first ten New York Times hits for "Coca-Cola are" involve sentences treating the company as a collective noun.
They are all sentences with a clearly plural subject, for example: "Bales of coca destined for Stepan and, ultimately, for Coca-Cola are shipped to the Maywood plant through ..."

The choice between using "it" and "they" when referring to a company is generally not available in American English. I understand the logic and the significance of the Guardian-style phrasing, but it only looks unnatural and wrong to a reader that is used to American English.

I agree that there is an important semantic difference between using a depersonalizing "it" or a personalizing "they" to refer to a company. However, this strategy is not available in American English except by way of various sleights of hand, such as using "we" or adding something to the name of the company so that the subject does in fact become plural: "Everyone at Coca-Cola feels ..."


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