[General] Use it instead of he/she to avoid sexist language?

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cubezero3

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The child was torn from its mother's arms.


I've noticed that native speakers, on many occasions, feel reluctantly to use he or him to refer to a certain person, whose gender is not specified. An instance of this can be found in a book entitled Contract, which I am reading at the moment. In the book, the author, who has been a lawyer for years, frequently alternate he with she, or, in a different situation, his with her. Today, I saw the above quoted sentence in the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary and couldn't help wondering whether the writer's choice of it was all due to the fact that he didn't want to offend both sides.

Many thanks

Richard
 
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philo2009

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This usage is possible only in the case of animals or young children/babies!
 

cubezero3

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Philo2009, your explanation is very clear and helpful.

Thank you.
 

emsr2d2

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To avoid repetitive use of "he/she", "him/her", "his/her" etc, we usually use "they/their" when talking about an unspecified gender.

When someone wants to get money from the bank, they go to the bank, fill in a withdrawal slip with their account details, and get their money.

And I agree that "it" can be used for animals and unborn children, but once a baby is born, it's polite to use "he/she" etc.
 
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tedtmc

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To give it a personal touch, you can also use 'you' to replace he/she.

When you want to get money from the bank, you go to the bank, fill in a withdrawal slip with your account details, and get your money.

not a teacher
 
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Rover_KE

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. . .but once a baby is born, it's polite to use "he/she" etc.

That works if the mother has been considerate enough to dress the tot in blue or pink.

In the absence of one of these clues to masculinity or femininity, it's perfectly acceptable to say 'Aw. . .what a bonny baby! Is it a boy or a girl?

After all, not even the most experienced midwife can determine the gender of an infant just by looking at its face.;-)

Rover
 

emsr2d2

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That works if the mother has been considerate enough to dress the tot in blue or pink.

In the absence of one of these clues to masculinity or femininity, it's perfectly acceptable to say 'Aw. . .what a bonny baby! Is it a boy or a girl?

After all, not even the most experienced midwife can determine the gender of an infant just by looking at its face.;-)

Rover

Oh, I agree! But you wouldn't walk up to a mother and baby, look at the kid and say "Oh, it's so cute!" You would probably use your question first to determine the gender and then follow it with "He/she is very cute/ugly/whatever!"
 

SoothingDave

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When someone wants to get money from the bank, they go to the bank, fill in a withdrawal slip with their account details, and get their money.

Not a teacher.

This formulation is done all the time, even though it violates English grammar. "Someone" is singular and should take a singular pronoun. "Someone wants to get his money."

But to appease feminists, who take offense at the normal rules of English grammar, we instead switch from the singular "someone" to the plural "they" or "their."
 
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In this particular case, linguists classify its as a singular pronoun that agrees with the singular noun antecedent. This works well with collective nouns. Remember: Its is a gender neutral possessive pronoun commonly used in conjunction with animals, ambiguous genders, and inanimate objects.
 
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