The plural solution is often an easy way to turn a faulty sentence into a better one.
In this example (from a novel) the fault is in the non-agreement of the noun and the possessive adjective that refers to it:
‘In a lot of murder cases, it transpired that the victim knew their attacker’.
How would you fix it?
Concerns about gender neutral words aside*, the problem is this: the word their is a plural form of possessive adjective and technically shouldn’t qualify the attacker of the victim (singular)
A simple plural solution
Often, the easiest solution is to use the plural consistently in the sentence:
‘In a lot of murder cases, it transpired that victims knew their attackers’.
As well as being simple and grammatically correct, it’s also more logical: the sentence itself suggests the use of the plural is more appropriate.
‘In a lot of murder cases’, there are, presumably, many ‘victims’; after all, a victim can’t be murdered more than once.
Remove the possessive (and the personal)
Another solution is to remove the possessive adjective completely:
‘In a lot of murder cases, it transpired that the victim knew the attacker’.
This sentence uses the singular to generalise about a number (a lot) of cases. It’s also a good solution because it avoids what can sound like an insensitive linking of a victim with a criminal.
Many people object to language that implies ownership or connection with something they want no association with, even grammatically.
They might, for example, resent phrases such as ‘his killer’, ‘her attacker’ or ‘my rapist’.
*Note: The only gender neutral possessive adjective in the English language is its, and it isn’t used in relation to persons. Perhaps we need a new one, as an alternative to his and her; any suggestions?
Here are some extra writing tips for better communication