Gender & Pronouns

Referring to both males and females

family portrait photographer
 

 

Gender Agreement Problem— everyone → their

SINGULAR

Formally, a singular personal pronoun such as anyone, everyone, each person, a baby, a child, a persona  is paired with a singular possessive pronoun (his or her). 

MASCULINE FOR MALES

maleEveryone had his picture taken.
All are male.

FEMININE FOR FEMALES

femaleEveryone had her picture taken. 

All are female.

MASCULINE/ FEMININE FOR BOTH GENDERS

male and femaleEveryone had his picture taken.

Everyone had her picture taken. 

Could be male or female. Note that some baby books alternate use of gender pronouns in each paragraph in order to be fair.

COMPOSITE OR PLURAL

Informally, and mostly in speech, anyone, everyone (sing. personal pronoun.) is paired with their (pl. poss. pronoun), especially when the speaker: (1) doesn't know the gender; (2) doesn't want to mention the gender; (3) doesn't want to exclude one gender by using his.

DISJUNCTIVE COORDINATION

male and femaleEveryone had his or her picture taken. 

COMPOSITE FORMS

male and femaleEveryone had his/her picture taken.

Everyone had (his)her picture taken.

PLURAL FORM POSSESSIVE

male and femaleEveryone had their picture taken. 

(informal since the 1700s)

 

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

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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grammar Notes

Comments

 

 

 

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)

"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)

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)

 

 

 

Resources

 

 

 

 

 

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.      br>
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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