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01 January 2013

Grammar: Problems with Gender Pronouns ("His", "His or Her" and the singular "They/Their")

by Rob San Miguel. Originally posted on January 28, 2011 on “Grammar Anatomy” and “The Chair.”

There are four types of GENDER Nouns and Pronouns

1. Masculine gender nouns are nouns used for males (young and old, people or animals) 
The masculine gender pronouns are he, him, his (singular) and they, them and theirs (plural)

2. Feminine gender nouns are nouns used for females (young and old, people or animals) 
The feminine gender pronouns are she, her, hers (singular) and they, them and theirs (plural)

3. Neuter gender nouns are nouns used for inanimate things (objects, items)
The neuter gender pronouns are it, its (singular) and they, them and theirs (plural)

4. Common gender nouns are nouns that are for both males and females. 
For plural common gender pronouns, we can use they, them and theirs.

However, it is not often clear what singular common gender pronoun we should use.

A. Traditionally, the singular masculine pronoun is used. (he, him, his): Example: Every person in this room can express his opinion.

B. Those who do not want to use the masculine pronoun, use “he or she,” “his or her,” or “him or her.” Example: Every person in this room can express his or her opinion.

C. However, the sentence sounds awkward and looks wordy when we have to use “he or she,” “his or her,” or “him or her” repeatedly.  Example:   Everyone can express his or her opinion and he or she can also choose to abstain. 

D.  One way to solve this problem is to use the singular THEY / THEIR.  However, the singular “THEY /THEIR” is still being disputed. 
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Example: Every person in this room can express their opinion. 

The best solution is to rewrite your sentence and use plural nouns.
Original sentence: Everyone can express his or her opinion or he or she can also choose to abstain. 

Four Revisions  
  • All can express their opinions or they can also choose to abstain.  OR
  • All of you can express your opinions or you can also choose to abstain.  OR
  • All of us can express our opinions or we can also choose to abstain.  OR 
  • All of them can express their opinions or they can also choose to abstain. 

For additional explanations on this issue, read Mark Nichols' article in "Daily Writing Tips."

Is “They” Acceptable as a Singular Pronoun?
By Mark Nichol
Posted: 16 Aug 2011 from DAILY WRITING TIPS.COM

Every time I use “they” as a singular pronoun in one of my entries, someone posts a comment, or emails me, scolding me for my grammatical error. My response? I (politely) tell them to get over it.

Granted, multiple grammatical strategies are available for people to identify someone with a personal pronoun, each of which can be used exclusively or in combination with one or more of the others:

  1. Use the male gender: “Each person is entitled to his opinion.”
  2. Use the female gender when all possible referents are women: “Each nun is entitled to her opinion.”
  3. Use both male and female genders: “Each person is entitled to his or her (or his/her) opinion.”
  4. Alternate gender references in repeated usage: “Each person is entitled to his opinion. However, she should also be receptive to those of others.” (This strategy is best employed with distinct anecdotes in separate passages; it’s awkward in proximity as shown in this example.)
  5. Use an indefinite article in place of a pronoun: “Each person is entitled to an opinion.”
  6. Recast the sentence to plural form: “All people are entitled to their own opinions.”
  7. I have used most of these strategies often. However, there is an additional option: “Each person is entitled to their opinion.”


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