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Q. Good day, fellow editors! The conventional rule about companies is to refer to them in the singular: “The company released its quarterly earnings statement.” Fine. But consider this: “The company’s recommendations are X, Y, and Z. I suggest you follow up by asking it these questions.” Or: “Company C shows it cares about its customers. We worked with it to demonstrate its commitment.” Those sentences just sound wrong. Surely you would follow up by asking them questions and work with them to demonstrate their commitment. So what to do? Refer to companies as “they” consistently? (Noneditors have a natural tendency to do this anyway.) Use “it” and switch to “they” where it makes sense to, but then end up with inconsistent pronouns? Your insight is appreciated!
A. As your examples show, “they” can be the better choice whenever a company is considered not as a faceless entity but as an organization made up of real people. But you do need to maintain consistency. So rather than allow a mix of “it” and “they,” settle on one or the other. In a relatively informal or purely promotional context, there’s nothing wrong with “BMW released their quarterly earnings statement.” Conversely, in an article for an academic journal, “Company C claimed to demonstrate its commitment to its customers” is fine also. But as corporations seek to become more accessible to the public, the promotional usage (which, as you suggest, often seems like the natural choice) may be creeping into formal prose. And who knows? Singular “they” was voted word of the decade. Corporate “they” may not be far behind.