Everyone has her own opinion.
Everyone has their own opinion.
Everyone have their own opinions.
There’s at least one thing wrong with each of the above sentences. Can you identify the problem(s)? Think about it for a few seconds before reading on.
The first is fairly standard, but could definitely be read as sexist. I could argue that “her” in this case is a generic possessive that includes both men and women, but we don’t read it like that. Replacing “her” with “him” in this sentence also feels exclusionary to me.
So, in the quest to include more people (because although everyone literally means “one”, in our minds we are thinking of a group of, well, everyone) people have begun using “their” as the possessive for everyone. This drives language traditionalists mad. We’ve “always” used a singular pronoun or possessive with everyone. It’s logic!
But as everyone knows, language changes and evolves (or very rarely backslides, or more often goes down deadends). You can read Anne of Green Gables (or more likely, her schoolmarm) ranting about slangy words that are part of our everyday language. “Groovy” has gone in and out of fashion and irony as it has moved through time and across contiments. And I have heard that some people are trying to bring “flapdoodle” back. I’d like them to be successful, but I’m afraid it’s one of those poor, deadend words that will only come back to life when someone sticks it on a viral app.
I am in favor of the everyone/their combo. Steven Pinker thinks so, too, and he’s a neurolinguist, so take that, you traditional prescriptionists who want credentials. (LOL)
However, if you take that usage to the logical ends . . . it complicates language. “Everyone have their own opinions” just sounds clunky. I think you can get by with “Everyone has their own opinions” but there’s a problem with grammatical person in there somewhere.
Anyway, one can fight all s/he likes, change is inevitable. And our language innovator may go down some dark cul de sacs, waving zir sword blindly. We need that, too. We need people brave enough to try new words and constructions, and somehow, we’ll find something elegant and more communicative and more precisely what we want to represent the ideas in our heads.
Steven Pinker has a new book out about writing. Since he’s an extremely seductive writer, I think we can learn something from him, even though I haven’t read the book yet. I have read some articles he’s done to promote the book, though, and I’d love to discuss in the comments our own experiences in the grammar wars.