Justin Cox
Administrator at The Writing Cooperative and Eater of Donuts
Published Nov 28, 2018

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How we address each other is important. If I were to refer to you as it, you’d probably take offense. Likewise, unless you identify as such, referring to you as they might cause undue confusion.

We’re taught how to address each other using proper pronouns and articles. But what about corporations? Are they people, requiring a more personal you or they? Or are they faceless entities, requiring an impersonal it?

Let’s dig into the issue.

Contents:

  1. Corporate Personhood
  2. It Depends
  3. Final Thoughts

Corporate Personhood

The legal concept of corporate personhood allows for certain rights belonging to people to pass to corporations. Corporations can sue people or enter contracts just as you or I. But corporations aren’t people, they’re legal entities.

Take Apple, for example. Apple developed a personified software named Siri who we are taught to address using personal pronouns — she, her, etc. But Apple is not Siri. Apple is a faceless corporation. It operates globally. It has a trillion dollar valuation.

However, as GrammarGirl points out, corporations are managed by people. Tim Cook is the CEO and face of Apple. There are thousands of employees all over the world who make and sell Apple’s various products. They are the heart and soul of Apple. They are who we interact with in Apple Stores and on tech support.

So which one is right? Is Apple an it or a they?

It Depends

Not what you wanted to hear, right? But that’s grammar.

Choosing it or they depends on the context of the sentence.

As with the Apple example above, when referring to the entity as an entity, use it:

  • Apple is a global company. It is worth over a trillion dollars.

When referring to the people who manage or work for the corporation, use they:

  • Apple is a global company. They provide support to millions of customers around the world.

Final Thoughts

As with all grammar rules, you can break them when necessary. Swapping it for they in either of the example sentences above would still read correctly. In the end, remember corporations are comprised of people and most often it’s the people we’re referring to.

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Justin Cox
Administrator at The Writing Cooperative and Eater of Donuts

Justin Cox is a writer, minister, and donut eater. His words are available online at Wired, Film School Rejects, The Writing Cooperative, The Coffeelicious, and more. Besides writing, Justin is an avid traveler and foodie. He lives in Orlando, Florida with his wife, Carla, and their dog, Mac. Connect with Justin on Twitter, Medium, or at JustinCox.com.

I was with you right up to your final example with which I'm afraid I disagree. You're still referring to the company, so you still need to say "It provides support..." However, if you'd started with (e.g.): "Apple employees are part of a global company" then your following sentence "They provide..." would have been correct. IMHO :-)

By brian.e.luff on 30 November 2018, 03:59 PM

I'd never thought about the proper way to address a corporate and I've fumbled a few times. Thanks for the tip.

By Narotso on 30 November 2018, 08:06 PM