Companies Are “it”, Not “they”

By Brittiany Cahoon

A common error in modern writing looks a little like this:

“Microsoft announced they are releasing a new Xbox console next week…”

Since Microsoft is a company made up of many people, it’s easy to make this mistake. But companies are always its, not theys.

“Microsoft announced it is releasing…”

Another variation on this rule is to remember to use which instead of who.

(Wrong) “Apple, Inc., who brought the world the iPod…”

(Right) “Apple, Inc., which brought the world the iPod…”

Here are some quotations from mainstream publications that illustrate the point:

Last week, at the Gnomedex technology conference in Seattle, Microsoft announced it is building the ability to detect, display and subscribe to RSS (The Guardian)

Second, Microsoft has devised a new strategy, called .NET, under which it will try to recast itself as a provider of Internet-based software services rather (The Economist)

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22 Responses to “Companies Are “it”, Not “they””

  • Daniel

    I must have written “they” for companies a couple of times.

    The tricky part, as you said, is that we automatically associate them with a bunch of people working together.

  • Alan

    Am I right in thinking that a corporation can still be a ‘they’ as they exist as a legal ‘person’?

  • Daniel

    Alan, even is a corporation exists as a legal “person,” it would still be a singular person, right?

    I will need to research some more here.

  • Charles

    In British English, collective nouns take a plural as in, The Government have made a decision. So, if a company is considered a person in the eyes of the law and if you’re British, “they” would be the appropriate pronoun.

  • Daniel

    Charles, are you sure? Here are some quotes from TheGuardian.co.uk and from The Economist:

    “Before launching a new online public service, the government checks to see whether a user community is already doing it better.” (The Guardian)

    “The government has launched an outspoken attack on major airlines for refusing to take climate change seriously” (The Guardian)

    “However, the government has refused to make available extra fuel at market prices to drivers” (The Economist)

    “Second, Microsoft has devised a new strategy, called .NET, under which it will try to recast itself as a provider of Internet-based software services rather” (The Economist)

  • –Deb

    People do seem to have the hardest time with singular entities made up of lots of little ones. I do wonder why it’s so confusing, and yet I find myself doing it from time to time when I’m writing copy at work. Perhaps it’s because you can write something like, “We at Microsoft are proud to announce,” which is correct because the writer is part of the “we,” but then when others discuss it, Microsoft itself gets treated as plural . . . huh. Interesting train of thought!

  • Rajab

    Alright. Should I say, Manchester United are going to sign Rajab or Manchester United is going to sign Rajab? Is it the same as with companies?

  • Jaro

    Rachel, how about the music bands? Does the same rule apply here as well? Should I say “Radiohead is going to release an EP” or “Radiohead are going to release an EP”? I guess the first one is correct, right?

  • Daniel

    Rajb and Jaro, I think that the rule applies to bands, football clubs and organizations as well.

    So “Manchester United is going to sign” and “Radiohead is going to release.”

  • Patricia

    Hi.. I know my question is out of context here, but I really need to know…
    What is the correct form:
    “sure worth it” or “surely worth it”?
    I’ve seen sentences on the internet with both forms… but I’d like to now what is the correct one. Can you help me?

  • Jaro

    Thanks for clarifying, Daniel. I’m not a native English speaker and this blog is my favourite resource for learning to use the language correctly.

  • Daniel

    Patricia, “this is for sure worth it” or “this is surely worth it.”

    These two are correct.

  • abdisamad

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  • abdisamad

    English languege is a key of the education

  • Michael

    However, I have seen several British and Australian bloggers write something like, “Microsoft have announced…” Presumably if the Guardian and the Economist don’t do it, that means it’s incorrect to call a company “they” no matter where you live.

  • April

    http://www.learnenglish.org.uk/grammar/archive/collective_nouns.html has an interesting section on collective nouns. It focuses mostly on the British English usage of them, but I imagine that it can also be helpful for the American English side of things.

  • Jon

    This grammatical explanation does not apply to British English – only American English. As they are two separate and very different languages, it should be specified.

  • nicknfshfdg

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  • connie

    I use ‘its’ when referring to a company. In F1, however, it uses ‘they’ to mean a particular team in Formula One. Why is this so?

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