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  1. #1
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    Question The missing possessive pronoun

    English does not have a singular possessive pronoun that is gender-neutral. People tend to use the plural pronoun “their” in place of the missing singular pronoun. This causes problematic sentences like: "The information authority is the executive or their delegate who is responsible for the use and protection of . . . ". What do you recommend to solve this type of problem?

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    MrPedantic is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: The missing possessive pronoun

    Hello Mitz

    There are 5 possible solutions:

    1. Use "his". This will probably irritate those who object to an automatic default to the masculine adjective, for political or philosophical reasons.

    2. Use "his or her" or "his/her". This will probably irritate those who have stern ideas about stylistic matters.

    3. Use "their". This will probably irritate those who have stern ideas about grammar (though in fact "their" has been used to mean "his or her" for several hundred years, and appears thus in the works of many reputable English writers).

    4. Alternate "his" and "her". This will probably irritate almost everyone.

    5. Recast the sentence to avoid the problem. This will probably irritate you.

    For my part, I tend to use option #3, as grammarians are usually pretty unfit and couldn't punch their way out of a paper bag. So it doesn't matter if you irritate them. But in situations where you may find yourself at the mercy of a passing pedant (e.g. exams, job applications), probably #5 is safest.

    MrP

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    Default Re: The missing possessive pronoun

    Quote Originally Posted by MrPedantic
    Hello Mitz

    There are 5 possible solutions:

    1. Use "his". This will probably irritate those who object to an automatic default to the masculine adjective, for political or philosophical reasons.

    2. Use "his or her" or "his/her". This will probably irritate those who have stern ideas about stylistic matters.

    3. Use "their". This will probably irritate those who have stern ideas about grammar (though in fact "their" has been used to mean "his or her" for several hundred years, and appears thus in the works of many reputable English writers).

    4. Alternate "his" and "her". This will probably irritate almost everyone.

    5. Recast the sentence to avoid the problem. This will probably irritate you.

    For my part, I tend to use option #3, as grammarians are usually pretty unfit and couldn't punch their way out of a paper bag. So it doesn't matter if you irritate them. But in situations where you may find yourself at the mercy of a passing pedant (e.g. exams, job applications), probably #5 is safest.

    MrP
    Mr Pedantic: Thanks for your well thought out reply. I was wondering if any linguist might suggest filling in this missing personal possessive pronoun by inventing a new English word that would replace the phrase "his or hers". There must be such a word in lther languages, no? But apparently, no one thinks that is a good idea.

    Mitz

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    Default Re: The missing possessive pronoun

    Well, it's been tried. But language isn't really a system of rules, it evolves of its own accord, and you can't simply add a new word and tell people that's the word they should use.

    And other languages have similar problems. For example, in German, although there is a neuter gender, its singular pronoun refers to one thing that is grammatically neuter; it can never be used to refer to something that could be male or female. Plus, German does not have any equivalent usage of the English "they" in such cases. And not only that, but many nouns for people have a different form, depending on whether they are male or female.

    The following are all translations of "an executive and their delegate":

    Der Geschäftsführer oder die Geschäftsführerin, und sein oder ihr Delegierter oder seine oder ihre Delegierte. (Nobody would ever actually write this, by the way.)

    Der/Die GeschäftsführerIn und sein(e)/ihr(e) Delegierte(r).

    Der Geschäftsführer bzw -in und sein(e) bzw ihr(e) Delegierte bzw Delegierter.

    ...and probably some more besides.

  5. #5
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: The missing possessive pronoun

    A few years back, some people started trying to get 'shem' or 'shim' (I can't remember which) used, but the idea never got anywhere.

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    Default Re: The missing possessive pronoun

    Hmmm . . .

    There is an elemental error here, but I need to check Pinker's 'The Language Instinct' for the term that I need to crack this nut. The point is that Mr. Stern Ideas about Grammar (Solution Three on Mr. Pedantic's list) is . . . simply wrong. It is correct to say, for example, 'If anyone rings, tell THEM that I am out.' Pinker fairly rubs the noses of the prescriptivists in it in the chapter 'The Language Mavens,' essential for anyone (like me) making the long journey from a prescriptivist background to lingustics. (It's why I am here. To see what I can learn, what I can teach, and what the state of play is.) Mr. Stern Ideas would be savaged by any linguistics student who has studied this topic!

    Mark in Perth.

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    Default Re: The missing possessive pronoun

    Quote Originally Posted by mark in perth View Post
    The point is that Mr. Stern...
    Mr. Stern?

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    Default Re: The missing possessive pronoun

    I found this little gem - now we like it, now we don't - at Chicago Style Q&A: Pronouns :

    Question. I would swear that I saw a reference in your manual that approved of the use of “their” instead of a gender-biased singular pronoun. For example, “If the user has completed installing the program, they should put the CD-ROM back in the package,” instead of “If the user has completed installing the program, s/he should put the CD-ROM back in the package,” but on your Q&A, you dance around the answer to the question and suggest that you do NOT approve of the singular “their.” Can you tell us what is acceptable?


    Answer. Yes, you saw it at 2.98 (note 9) in the fourteenth edition, but there was some regret at having written it, and we decided not to second the idea in the fifteenth edition. Though some writers are comfortable with the occasional use of they as a singular pronoun, some are not, and it is better to do the necessary work to recast a sentence or, other options having been exhausted, use he or she. For a fuller discussion of this issue, see paragraphs 5.43 and 5.202–6 in CMOS 15, including the entry for “he or she” under the “Glossary of Troublesome Expressions” at paragraph 5.202.

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    MrPedantic is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: The missing possessive pronoun

    (Or "now they like it, now he or she doesn't"...)

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    Default Re: The missing possessive pronoun

    Hi,
    1. One has to look after one’s (own?) parents.
    2. One has to look after his/her (own?) parents.
    3. One has to look after his (own?) parents.
    4. One has to look after their (own?) parents.
    Perhaps I’d select
    4. One has to look after their own parents.

    And you?

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