List of examples of singular "their" etc. from Jane Austen's writings


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Methodology

The following examples were mainly turned up in a fairly unsophisticated search by myself (Henry Churchyard, churchh@crossmyt.com), using the Jane Austen e-texts which are freely available on-line over the Internet (not the official Oxford University e-texts); the search patterns were basically the morphemes "any", "each", "every", "no", "one", and "who(m)", found preceding "their" or "themselves" within the same orthographic sentence; and the morpheme "body" found preceding any of the "they" words within the same orthographic sentence. A few additional examples come from Jespersen. I have not included some examples where there is not a real choice between "their" and "his" (i.e. it would be impossible, even for the most rigid followers of the 19th century tradition of the prescriptive "generic masculine", to substitute "he/him/his" in place of "they/them/their"); a typical example is Mr. Knightley's "He had used every body ill -- and they are all delighted to forgive him", from Emma.

In the listing below, the examples are arranged by novel (the six novels are alphabetized by title), and then by relative order of occurrence within each novel. Examples from other writings follow those from the novels. I make no claim that these lists are exhaustive.


Examples from Emma

Emma Woodhouse:
"Every body was punctual, every body in their best looks: not a tear, and hardly a long face to be seen."
Emma Woodhouse:
"but it is not every body who will bestow praise where they may. You do not often overpower me with it."
Emma Woodhouse to Mr. Knightley [discussing Harriet Smith]:
"Who is in love with her? Who makes you their confidant?"
Mr. Knightley:
"Whoever might be her parents, ... whoever may have had the charge of her, it does not appear to have been any part of their plan to introduce her into what you would call good society."
[??Maybe non-singular]
Mr. Elton:
"At Christmas every body invites their friends about them, and people think little of even the worst weather."
Mr. Elton [rejecting Emma's idea of his being attached to Harriet Smith]:
"I wish her extremely well: and, no doubt, there are men who might not object to -- Every body has their level: but as for myself, I am not, I think, quite so much at a loss...."
Emma Woodhouse:
"It is very unfair to judge of any body's conduct, without an intimate knowledge of their situation."
Narrator:
"he [Frank Churchill] was still unwilling to admit... that there would be the smallest difficulty in every body's returning into their proper place the next morning."
Frank Churchill:
"this must be the very shop that every body attends every day of their lives, as my father informs me."
Emma Woodhouse to Frank Churchill:
"As to the pretence of [Jane Fairfax] trying her native air, I look upon that as a mere excuse. -- In the summer it might have passed; but what can any body's native air do for them in the months of January, February, and March?"
Emma Woodhouse's reported thoughts:
"for they say every body is in love once in their lives, and I shall have been let off easily."
Narrator:
"[Mr. Woodhouse] was happily placed, quite at his ease, ready to talk with pleasure of what had been achieved, and advise every body to come and sit down, and not to heat themselves."
Frank Churchill [on Box Hill]:
"I say nothing of which I am ashamed ... Let every body on the Hill hear me if they can."
Narrator's rephrasing of Emma Woodhouse's comments on the birth of Mrs. Weston's daughter:
"and Mrs. Weston -- no one could doubt that a daughter would be most to her; and it would be quite a pity that any one who so well knew how to teach, should not have their powers in exercise again."

Examples from Mansfield Park

Narrator:
"Nobody meant to be unkind, but nobody put themselves out of their way to secure her comfort."
Mary Crawford:
"I would have every body marry if they can do it properly: I do not like to have people throw themselves away; but every body should marry as soon as they can do it to advantage."
Mary Crawford:
"With all due respect to such of the present company as chance to be married, my dear Mrs. Grant, there is not one in a hundred of either sex who is not taken in when they marry."
Narrator:
"Lady Bertram made no objection [to the plans for the Sotherton visit]; and every one concerned in the going was forward in expressing their ready concurrence, excepting Edmund, who heard it all and said nothing."
Mary Crawford:
"At any rate, it is safer to leave people to their own devices on such subjects. Every body likes to go their own way -- to chuse their own time and manner of devotion."
Narrator:
"Poor Julia, the only one out of the nine not tolerably satisfied with their lot..."
Narrator [paraphrasing Maria Bertram's reflections on the date of her father's return, and her projected marriage]:
"It would hardly be early in November; there were generally delays, a bad passage or something; that favouring something which every body who shuts their eyes while they look, or their understandings while they reason, feels the comfort of."
Narrator:
"Every body around her [Fanny Price] was gay and busy, prosperous and important; each had their object of interest, their part, their dress, their favourite scene, their friends and confederates: all were finding employment in consultations and comparisons, or diversion in the playful conceits they suggested. She alone was sad and insignificant"
Mrs. Grant:
"He has a fine dignified manner, which suits the head of such a house, and keeps every body in their place."
Narrator:
"Every body began to have their vexation."
Narrator:
"So far from being all satisfied and all enjoying, she found everybody requiring something they had not, and giving occasion of discontent to the others. Everybody had a part either too long or too short; nobody would attend as they ought; nobody would remember on which side they were to come in; nobody but the complainer would observe any directions."
Mary Crawford:
"To say the truth, ... I am something like the famous Doge at the court of Louis XIV; and may declare that I see no wonder in this shrubbery equal to seeing myself in it. If any body had told me a year ago that this place would be my home, that I should be spending month after month here, as I have done, I certainly should not have believed them!"
Mrs. Norris:
"Had the doctor been contented to take my dining-table when I came away, as any body in their senses would have done, instead of having that absurd new one of his own, which is wider, literally wider than the dinner-table here, how infinitely better it would have been!"
Narrator:
"In the evening it was found, according to the predetermination of Mrs. Grant and her sister, that after making up the whist-table there would remain sufficient [number of people] for a round game, and everybody being as perfectly complying and without a choice as on such occasions they always are, [the card game] speculation was decided on almost as soon as whist..."
[Mary Crawford] tried to laugh off her feelings by saying,
"Nothing amuses me more than the easy manner with which every body settles the abundance of those who have a great deal less than themselves."
Mary Crawford:
"It is every body's duty to do as well for themselves as they can."
Narrator, reporting Fanny Price's reflections:
"It was the abode of noise, disorder, and impropriety. Nobody was in their right place, nothing was done as it ought to be."
Narrator:
"At Mansfield, no sounds of contention, no raised voice, no abrupt bursts, no tread of violence, was ever heard; all proceeded in a regular course of cheerful orderliness; every body had their due importance; every body's feelings were consulted."
Narrator:
"The doors were in constant banging, the stairs were never at rest, nothing was done without a clatter, nobody sat still, and nobody could command attention when they spoke."
Henry Crawford:
"It was a lovely morning, and at that season of the year a fine morning so often turned off, that it was wisest for every body not to delay their exercise."
Narrator (chapter 47):
"It had been a miserable party, each of the three believing themselves most miserable."
Narrator:
"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore every body, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest."
Narrator:
"I purposely abstain from dates on this occasion, that every one may be at liberty to fix their own, aware that the cure of unconquerable passions, and the transfer of unchanging attachments, must vary much as to time in different people."
Narrator:
"She was of course only too good for him; but as nobody minds having what is too good for them, he was very steadily earnest in the pursuit of the blessing, and it was not possible that encouragement from her should be long wanting. Timid, anxious, doubting as she was, it was still impossible that such tenderness as hers should not, at times, hold out the strongest hope of success, though it remained for a later period to tell him the whole delightful and astonishing truth."

Examples from Northanger Abbey

Mrs. Allen:
"if we knew anybody we would join them directly. The Skinners were here last year -- I wish they were here now."
John Thorpe:
"I am sure of this -- that if every body was to drink their bottle a day, there would not be half the disorders in the world there are now."
Henry Tilney:
"We have entered into a contract of mutual agreeableness for the space of an evening, and all our agreeableness belongs solely to each other for that time. Nobody can fasten themselves on the notice of one, without injuring the rights of the other."
Henry Tilney [this is the only time that Jane Austen uses "he or she" in the six novels]:
"You will allow that in both [dancing and marriage], man has the advantage of choice, woman only the power of refusal; that in both, it is an engagement between man and woman, formed for the advantage of each; and that when once entered into, they belong exclusively to each other till the moment of its dissolution; that it is their duty, each to endeavour to give the other no cause for wishing that he or she had bestowed themselves elsewhere; and their best interest, to keep their own imaginations from wandering towards the perfections of their neighbours, or fancying that they should have been better off with anyone else."
Catherine Morland:
"if I do not know any body, it is impossible for me to talk to them; and, besides, I do not want to talk to anybody."
Isabella Thorpe:
"But every body has their failing, you know, and every body has a right to do what they like with their own money."
Narrator:
"With whomsoever he was, or was likely to be connected, his own consequence always required that theirs should be great, and as his intimacy with any acquaintance grew, so regularly grew their fortune."

Examples from Persuasion

Mr. Shepherd:
"I, John Shepherd, might conceal any family-matters that I chose, for nobody would think it worth their while to observe me."
Narrator (Anne Eliot's thoughts):
"She did not blame Lady Russell, she did not blame herself for having been guided by her; but she felt that were any young person, in similar circumstances, to apply to her for counsel, they would never receive any of such certain immediate wretchedness, such uncertain future good."
Narrator:
"Elizabeth could not conceive how such an absurd suspicion should occur to her [Anne], and indignantly answered for each party's perfectly knowing their situation."
[i.e. Sir Walter and Mrs. Clay.]
Narrator:
"Every body has their taste in noises as well as in other matters; and sounds are quite innoxious, or most distressing, by their sort rather than their quantity."
Admiral Croft:
"What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that any body would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockleshell as that."
Mrs. Smith:
"Everybody's heart is open, you know, when they have recently escaped from severe pain, or are recovering the blessing of health, and Nurse Rooke thoroughly understands when to speak."

Examples from Pride and Prejudice

Mrs. Bennet:
"But every body is to judge for themselves, and the Lucases are very good sort of girls, I assure you. It is a pity they are not handsome!"
Elizabeth Bennet:
"You wanted me, I know, to say ``Yes,'' that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste; but I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes, and cheating a person of their premeditated contempt. I have therefore made up my mind to tell you that I do not want to dance a reel at all -- and now despise me if you dare."
Wickham:
"I cannot pretend to be sorry ... that he [Darcy] or that any man should not be estimated beyond their deserts; but with him I believe it does not often happen."
Narrator:
"The whole of what Elizabeth had already heard, his [Wickham's] claims on Mr. Darcy, and all that he had suffered from him, was now openly acknowledged and publicly canvassed; and every body was pleased to think how much they had always disliked Mr. Darcy before they had known any thing of the matter."
Mr. Collins: [New]
"In truth I must acknowledge that, with all the disadvantages of this humble parsonage, I should not think any one abiding in it an object of compassion while they are sharers of our intimacy at Rosings."
Elizabeth Bennet:
"Of whom does Jane ever think ill? And who is there, whatever might be their former conduct, that she would believe capable of such an attempt, till it were proved against them?"
Jane Bennet:
"But to expose the former faults of any person, without knowing what their present feelings were, seemed unjustifiable."
Narrator:
"All Meryton seemed striving to blacken the man, who, but three months before, had been almost an angel of light. ... Every body declared that he [Wickham] was the wickedest young man in the world; and every body began to find out that they had always distrusted the appearance of his goodness."
Mr. Collins:
"[Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Anne de Bourgh] agree with me in apprehending that this false step in one daughter [Lydia Bennet] will be injurious to the fortunes of all the others; for who, as Lady Catherine herself condescendingly says, will connect themselves with such a family."
Narrator [the referents are Jane and Elizabeth Bennet, two women, so "themselves" was not used instead of "herself" for reasons of gender-neutrality]:
"Both sisters were uncomfortable enough. Each felt for the other, and of course for themselves; and their mother talked on, of her dislike of Mr. Darcy, and her resolution to be civil to him only as Mr. Bingley's friend, without being heard by either of them."
Mrs. Bennet:
"I think every thing has passed off uncommonly well, I assure you. ... The venison was roasted to a turn -- and everybody said they never saw so fat a haunch."
Elizabeth Bennet to Darcy:
"To be sure, you knew no actual good of me -- but nobody thinks of that when they fall in love."

Examples from Sense and Sensibility

Narrator:
"they were wise enough to be contented with the house as it was; and each of them was busy in arranging their particular concerns, and endeavouring, by placing around them books and other possessions, to form themselves a home."
[Refers to women only.]
Narrator:
"The sudden termination of Colonel Brandon's visit at the Park, with his steadiness in concealing its cause, filled the mind, and raised the wonder, of Mrs. Jennings for two or three days: she was a great wonderer, as every one must be who takes a very lively interest in all the comings and goings of all their acquaintance."
Edward Ferrars [to Marianne Dashwood]:
"Perhaps, then, you would bestow it as a reward on that person who wrote the ablest defence of your favourite maxim, that no one can ever be in love more than once in their life -- your opinion on that point is unchanged, I presume?"
Mrs. Dashwood:
"But remember that the pain of parting from friends will be felt by every body at times, whatever be their education or state."
Elinor Dashwood:
"Whoever may have been so detestably your enemy, let them be cheated of their malignant triumph, my dear sister, by seeing how nobly the consciousness of your own innocence and good intentions supports your spirits."
Narrator:
"Had both the children been there, the affair might have been determined too easily by measuring them at once; but as Harry only was present, it was all conjectural assertion on both sides; and every body had a right to be equally positive in their opinion, and to repeat it over and over again as often as they liked."
[Only women are referred to here also.]
Narrator:
"The two mothers, though each really convinced that her own son was the tallest, politely decided in favour of the other. The two grandmothers, with not less partiality, but more sincerity, were equally earnest in support of their own descendant."
[I.e., each grandmother thought her own grandson was the tallest. This is a somewhat odd use use of singular "their", since there is no accompanying indefinite quantifying word.]
Mrs. Jennings:
"Well! ... that is her revenge. Every body has a way of their own. But I don't think mine would be to make one son independent because another had plagued me."
Ann Steele [a.k.a. "Nancy"]:
"But it [i.e. that Edward Ferrars would give up Lucy Steele] was said, I know very well, and by more than one; for Miss Godby told Miss Sparks that nobody in their senses could expect Mr. Ferrars to give up a woman like Miss Morton, with thirty thousand pounds to her fortune, for Lucy Steele, that had nothing at all; and I had it from Miss Sparks myself."
Narrator:
"Every thing that the most zealous affection, the most solicitous care, could do to render her comfortable, was the office of each watchful companion, and each found their reward in her bodily ease, and her calmness of spirits."
Narrator:
"I have not a doubt of it," said Marianne; "and I have nothing to regret -- nothing but my own folly." "Rather say your mother's imprudence, my child," said Mrs. Dashwood: "she must be answerable." Marianne would not let her proceed; and Elinor, satisfied that each felt their own error, wished to avoid any survey of the past that might weaken her sister's spirits...
[Again, singular "their" refers to each of two women, and so has nothing to do with gender-neutrality.]
Narrator:
"They each felt his [Colonel Brandon's] sorrows, and their own obligations, and Marianne, by general consent, was to be the reward of all."

Examples from Jack & Alice

These are from one of Jane Austen's earlier Juvenilia.

Narrator:
"The Company now advanced to a Gaming Table where sat 3 Dominos (each with a bottle in their hand) deeply engaged; but a female in the character of Virtue fled with hasty footsteps from the shocking scene, whilst a little fat woman, representing Envy, sat alternately on the foreheads of the 3 Gamesters."
Lady Williams:
"when a person has too great a degree of red in their Complexion, it gives their face, in my opinion, too red a look."
Alice Johnson, echoed by Lady Williams:
[Alice Johnson:] "But Madam, I deny that it is possible for any one to have too great a proportion of red in their Cheeks."
[Lady Williams:]"What, my Love, not if they have too much colour?"
Lady Williams:
"considering all things, I do not think you so much to blame as many People do; for when a person is in Liquor, there is no answering for what they may do."

Example from The Visit: A Comedy in 2 Acts

This is from another of Jane Austen's Juvenilia.

Miss Fitzgerald:
"Will no one allow me the honour of helping them? Then John, take away the Pudding, & bring the Wine."

Example from The Three Sisters

This is from one of Jane Austen's later Juvenilia.

Georgiana Stanhope:
"At length, however, Sophy proposed that to please Mr. W. it [the new carriage] should be a dark brown, and to please Mary it should be hung rather high and have a silver Border. This was at length agreed to, tho' reluctantly on both sides, as each had intended to carry their point entire."

Example from Scraps ("The female philosopher -- A Letter")

Arabella Smythe:
"So said I, & to my opinion everyone added weight by the concurrence of their own."

Example from The Watsons

Tom Musgrave:
"Lord Osborne enjoys it famously, and he makes the best dealer without exception that I ever beheld, -- such quickness and spirit, he lets nobody dream over their cards.

Example from the Opinions of "Mansfield Park"

Jane Austen's rephrasing of the comments of one Mrs. Pole on her first three published novels (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park).

Jane Austen:
"Mrs. Pole also said that no Books had ever occasioned so much canvassing & doubt, & that everybody was desirous to attribute them to some of their own friends, or to some person of whom they thought highly."

Examples from Jane Austen's Letters

Letter of September 15, 1796
"If anyone wants anything in town, they must send their commissions to Frank, as I shall merely pass through it."
Letter of October 1, 1808
"Everybody who comes to Southampton finds it either their duty or pleasure to call upon us; yesterday we were visited by the eldest Miss Cotterel, just arrived from Waltham."
Letter of December 27, 1808
"Lady Sondes' match surprises, but does not offend me; ... but I consider everybody as having a right to marry once in their lives for love, if they can."

It's interesting that Jane Austen seems to use singular "their" less often in her letters than in her novels -- the Brabourne edition of the Letters (3 examples found) contains more text written by her than either Northanger Abbey (7 examples found) or Persuasion (6 examples found). This shows fairly clearly that she didn't see singular "they" as colloquial or non-literary (since there are some expressions -- such as the word "funny" -- that she uses in her letters, but never in her novels or other literary writings).


Does Jane Austen also use the generic masculine?

A quick search for 3rd. sg. masculine personal pronouns used generically turned up only one clear example (the first of the two below). This search was admittedly rudimentary (the morpheme "body" preceding a masc. sg. pronoun within the same orthographic sentence), but the parallel search for "body" preceding a plural pronoun would turn up over 40 examples of singular "their" etc. (The relative paucity of the generic masculine in Jane Austen can be seen from the fact that the same search that turned up only one clear example of the generic masculine also caught five cases of singular "their" etc., even though I had not been searching for the plural pronoun forms!)

Chapter 33 of Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth Bennet:
"I do not know any body who seems more to enjoy the power of doing what he likes than Mr. Darcy."

The History of England (Henry the 8's reign)

Narrator:
"Tho' I do not profess giving many dates, yet as I think it proper to give some & shall of course make choice of those which it is most necessary for the Reader to know, I think it right to inform him that her letter to the King was dated on the 6th of May."

Statistics

This shows the number of occurrences of singular "their" (etc.) in each of the texts, with narration and non-narration tabulated separately, and non-narration broken down into individual characters. (Here "narration" is defined simply as whatever is not between orthographic quotation marks and not part of a letter.)

Jane Austen clearly does not confine this construction to characters which might be expected to use "bad language" (unlike the "me and..." as verb-subject construction discussed above, for which the statistics are Narration: 0, Lydia Bennet: 3, Lucy Steele: 2, Mrs. Elton: 1 -- or the word "fun", for which the statistics are Narration: 0, Lydia Bennet: 8, John Thorpe: 1 -- or the phrase "you was", for which the statistics are Narration: 0, Lucy Steele: 3, Nancy Steele: 1 -- or "had took" / "have took", for which the statistics are Lucy Steele: 4 -- or "says I" as verb+subject, which occurs twice in Mrs. Jennings' speech -- or "ain't" for which the statistics, ignoring two occurrences of jocular interrogative "Ain't I?", are Narration: 0, Mrs. Jennings: 3, Nancy Steele: 2, Fanny ("Mrs. John") Dashwood: 1, and Lucy Steele: 1).

Note that these statistics count the number of sentences (or short groups of two or three sentences) in which singular "their" etc. is found, and not the number of individual occurrences of such pronoun words (the total of the latter is at least 109).



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