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Is it "a company who..." or "a company that..."?

What pronoun should you use when referring to a company?

By
Mignon Fogarty,
January 11, 2013
Episode #351

Page 3 of 3

Can a Book “Say” Something?

As a final aside, this topic reminded me of another question about an inanimate object taking action that has come up a few times over the years. On occasion, someone will complain that a book can’t say anything.

For example, if I write that the AP Stylebook says you should refer to a company as “it,” I’ll get someone responding that books don’t speak; therefore, I should write that the book states that you should refer to a company as “it” rather than the book says such a thing.

It’s actually a pretty logical statement, but English is not such a logical language. I couldn’t find this question addressed in the style guides I typically check, but the Oxford English Dictionary is unusually clear. I often find that the OED doesn’t cover usage questions, but the entry for the verb “say” specifically addresses whether the word can be used for situations other than speaking, and the OED says it can, both in a little note in the “signification” section at the beginning of the entry and in one of the definitions. For example, the OED gives this quotation from Faulkner’s book As I Lay Dying: The clock said twenty past twelve. (1)

So there you have it! Companies are just legal entities and should be referred to as such, using pronouns like “that” and “it.” If you want to use “who” or “they,” refer to the people doing the company’s work.

References

1. “say, v.1” Oxford English Dictionary, online version. December 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/171590 (accessed January 10, 2013).

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