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Gender & Pronouns

Express a gender neutral reference

Student in class
 

 

Gender—making reference to males and females

MALE  / FEMALE

Traditionally, writers have used he or his as the universal singular pronoun. However, the usage is considered out-of-date by many who prefer less sexist wording. Increasingly, editors of publications are suggesting that writers reword a sentence with plurals or "singular they" when making a reference to males and females.

"UNIVERSAL" MARKER FOR GROUP OF BOTH GENDERS

maleEveryone had his notebook.

Somebody did not turn in his homework. Would he please do so immediately. 

Everyone knows that he must keep up with his assignments.                                      

A student is required to turn off his phone before entering class.            

MASCULINE MARKER FOR GROUP OF ALL MALES

maleEveryone had his notebook.

Somebody did not turn in his homework. Would he please do so immediately.                 

Everyone knows that he must keep up with his assignments.            

A student is required to turn off his phone before entering class.      

FEMININE MARKER FOR GROUP OF ALL FEMALES

femaleEveryone had her notebook.

Somebody did not turn in her homework. Would she please do so immediately. 

Everyone knows that she must keep up with her assignments.

A student is required to turn off her phone before entering class.      

 
 
MALE AND FEMALE

Reasons for rewording with plurals or with "singular they or their" include: (1) writer doesn't know the gender; (2) writer doesn't want to mention gender; (3) writer doesn't want to exclude the other gender with his, (4) writer doesn't want to specify gender because the individual(s) does not identify as male or female.

PLURAL MARKER

male and femaleAll had their notebooks.

All did not turn in their homework. Would they please do so immediately. 

All know that they must keep up with their assignments.

Students are required to turn off their phones before entering class.      

COORDINATED MASCULINE & FEMININE MARKERS

male and femaleEveryone had his or her notebook.

Somebody did not turn in his or her homework. Would he or she please do so immediately. 

Everyone knows that he or she must keep up with his or her assignments.

A student is required to turn off his or her phone before entering class.

COMPOSITE MAKER   S/HE  (S)HE

male and femaleEveryone had his/her notebook.

Somebody did not turn in his or her homework. Would s/he please do so immediately. 

Everyone knows that s/he must keep up with his/her assignments.

A student is required to turn off his/her phone before entering class.      

SINGULAR THEY/THEIR¹

male and femaleEveryone had their notebook.

Somebody did not turn in their homework. Would they please do so immediately. 

Everyone should know that they must keep up with their assignments.

A student is required to turn off their phones before entering class.    

¹(The plural form has been in use since the1700s and is now in use by a number of publications. See Grammar Notes.)  

 

composite (Adj) — compound, including separate elements, for example s/he, s(he) expresses (she and he); his/her, his(her) (his, her)

neutral (Adj) — not favoring one group or the other

See Huddleston "Purportedly, sex-neutral she" 17.2.4 (b) ; "Disjunctive Coordination" [he or she] 17.2.4 (c); "Composite Forms" [(s)he, s/he] 17.2.4 (d); "Singular they" 17.2.4(e).

 

 

 

 

 

Singular "they"

Changing awkward gender reference

 

 

Changes in Guidelines for Agreement

SINGULAR

Traditionally, a word such as each, every, everyone or everybody is singular in agreement with the verb and the following accusative pronoun(s). The universal default pronoun is male (he/his), a rather limiting (sexist) option.

AWKWARD — UNIVERSAL DEFAULT IS MALE

Each student has his own opinion about this grammar rule. 

(This usage is sexist when females are included.)

AWKWARD — COORDINATED PRONOUN

Each student has his or her (his/her) own opinion about this grammar rule. 

(This usage is preferred by some but considered out-dated and wordy by others.)

PLURAL

Increasingly editors of publications are recommending the use of what is called "singular they" in situations where it is impossible or hopelessly awkward to recast (rewrite) the sentence as plural. (Walsh)

BEST — PLURAL (IF POSSIBLE)

All students have their own opinions about this grammar rule.

(This usage is favored by some publications.) See Grammar Notes below.

ACCEPTABLE — SINGULAR (IF PLURAL IS NOT POSSIBLE)

Everyone has their own opinion about this grammar rule.

This solution is good for groups of people including males and females, or for people who identify as neither male or female.

 

See Grammar Notes below for comments by grammarians and references.

 

 

 

 

Grammar Notes(Advanced)

Grammarian Comments

 

 

Grammarian Comments on "Singular they"

A gender neutral pronoun means that a pronoun is not masculine-only or feminine-only. 

In formal English, we use the pronoun his to refer to a male or a female. However, some speakers and writers feel that his does not reflect modern attitudes toward gender equity.  "Attempts to invent pronouns for this purpose date back at least to 1850."  (Williams)

"The issue is unresolved, but it begins to look as if the use of an indefinite third person singular is not passing unnoticed by standard speakers (except those trained in grammar) and is being left unaltered by copy editors. (Burchfield 776)

Speakers and writers apply different strategies to deal with the problem.  Some avoid the problem by rephrasing (using passive voice), others use both his and her, and others use the plural form – their. (Huddleston 494-5)

"Those who dislike singular they, or are cabined, cribbed, and confined by a restrictive house style, can continue to convert singular into the plural, use the cumbersome and tedious his or her construction, employ s/he, alternate his and hers, or recast sentences altogether, in order to avoid a simple, clear construction that everyone understands." (McIntyre)

"As most commentators note, the traditional pronoun for each of these cases is the masculine third person singular, he, his, him. This tradition goes back to the 18th century grammarians, who boxed themselves into the position by first deciding that the indefinite pronouns must always be singular.  They then had to decide between the masculine and feminine pronouns for use in reference to the indefinites, and they chose the masculine (they were of course, all men). (Merriam-Webster 902)

"It is usually possible, and preferable, to rewrite sentences as plural to avoid both the sexist and antiquated universal default to male pronouns, and the awkward use of he or she, him or her.…When such a rewrite is impossible or hopelessly awkward, however, what is known as “the singular they” is permissible: Everyone has their own opinion about the traditional grammar rule. The singular they is also useful in references to people who identify as neither male nor female. (Walsh)

"By the fourth edition, Spock adapts to society’s shifting ideas of gender equality, especially after the rise of the women's liberation movement and concurrent feminist criticisms about sexism apparent in Baby and Child Care. Spock changed every pronoun for the baby, previously referred to only as “he,” and discusses ways for parents to minimize gender stereotyping while raising a child." (Wikipedia)

 

 

 

Resources

Images

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Strategies for agreement

Basketball camp
 

 

Identify the agreement problems.

Read the paragraph about a basketball summer camp.  The writer wants to encourage both boys and girls to attend. However, the paragraph has pronoun agreement problems. 

 

 

Read for Errors

Basketball Camp: More Than Champions   

Our camp provides a service to help everyone reach their potential. Our goal is for each camper to work hard and feel good about themselves in a safe, disciplined, highly structured and motivated environment of learning and fun. We place every child and their personal development ahead of the game.

 

Every one of our children gets positive encouragement to improve their fundamental skills.    Players also learn sportsmanship while working with their team to win.  By the end of the camp session, every child will get their certificate. Every child will have enjoyed his basketball camp program.

day-camp (N) – a place where children can go in the day during the school holidays to do sports, art etc

certificate (N) – an official paper stating completion of a course, study or  exam

champions (N) – winners of a competition

development (N) – the process of becoming bigger, better, stronger, or more advanced

disciplined (Adj) – obeying rules and controlling behavior

encouragement (Adj) – giving  a person confidence to do something

environment (N) – the people and things that are around the person, the general situation and feeling one has in the place

fundamentals (N) – the most important ideas, rules, the basics

goal (N) – something that a person hopes to achieve in the future, an objective

motivated (Adj) – very much wanting to do or achieve something, especially because it is interesting or exciting

philosophy (N) – the attitude or set of ideas that guides the behavior of a person or organization

potential (N) – a natural ability or quality that one has, a talent that practice enables

skill (N) – an ability to do something well, especially because you have learned and practiced / practiced it 

structured (Adj) – carefully organized, planned, or arranged 

 

 

 

 

Paragraph Agreement

  1. Select agreement that is satisfactory for the entire paragraph. 
  2. Compare your response to the three solutions below.

 

1.
 
SINGULAR — solution
Our camp provides a service to help everyone reach in a safe, disciplined, highly structured and motivated environment of learning and fun.  
COMPOSITE — solution
Our camp provides a service to help everyone reach in a safe, disciplined, highly structured and motivated environment of learning and fun.  
in a safe, disciplined, highly structured and motivated environment of learning and fun.     
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

General vs. Individual Focus 

 

 

STRETEGY 3

 

12.
Every child will receive his lunch and snack daily.

CHANGE TO PLURAL AGREEMENT: All children


13.
All children will get individual help with their ball handling skills.

CHANGE TO SINGULAR AGREEMENT: Every child


14.
Campers, who have special needs, should talk to their counselors. camper or day-camper (N) – term for a child participating in a day-camp (sports program) activity.  

CHANGE TO SINGULAR AGREEMENT: A camper


15.
Campers will receive T-shirts with their names on them.

CHANGE TO SINGULAR AGREEMENT: Each


16.
Every day-camper will participate on a team to improve his sportsmanship skills.

CHANGE TO PLURAL AGREEMENT: day-campers


17.
Each player will have an opportunity to get his name on the Award Board.

CHANGE TO PLURAL AGREEMENT: Players


18.
The children will find themselves becoming more confident.

CHANGE TO SINGULAR AGREEMENT: Every