English Teacher Article Non-Gender Specific Pronouns

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Language usage is something that people feel very strongly about, and we do get many emails about certain issues, so I am going to lay out the site's language policies on some issues here so that users know where they stand.

Countless introductions to academic texts mention the issue of pronouns where the gender isn't specified, and there are a number of ways of handling the issue:

1. Someone has left his umbrella.
2. Someone has left his or her umbrella.
3. Someone has left their umbrella.

The first is the traditional way, but it doesn't allow for women. The second is all-inclusive, but it is wordy. The third is also all-inclusive, but it stands open to criticism that singular and plural are mis-matched.

As an editorial policy, I do not enforce any of these approaches- any contributor is free to deal with the issue in any way they please, though I use the third. We do get occasional emails from pedants who argue that this is a serious language error and that he is the only correct form. I feel that the politeness principle matters; many languages use plural forms to be polite or inclusive, and English is very inconsistent about singular and plural issues. I don't see many of these people complaining about everybody being followed by a singular verb. In the areas that I edit, I will continue to use plural pronouns with words like someone, though I am happy if other contributors do things differently.

Categories: Editorial Policies


His, hers or theirs? I write technical documents for a software company and the term "users" is sprinkled throughout the documents. I want to change it to "their" to be inclusive of both sexes without specifying which. A co-worker who proofs my work and is a former English teacher sends me e-mails everytime I use "their".

You have not provided a definitive answer - or at least not one to substantiate my argument!

We need to invent a new gender nuetral pronoun that could mean "he" or "she". This is a short coming of the english language that needs to be corrected.





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