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Common Grammar Error 1 - He/she/they

Posted by ESC on April 10, 2003

In Reply to: HIS posted by Word Camel on April 10, 2003

: : : What is the correct pronoun for everyone? Everyone has his/her or their dreams? Thanks.

: : The question is controversial. Many people say and write "their." I don't like it because "everyone" is singular and "their" is plural. I use "his or her." Proponents of "their" won't be stopped, though.

: This is a pet peeve of mine. 'Their' is absolutely wrong. The correct pronoun is 'his' or 'her' if you are specifically referring to a group composed solely of women. The words,'he' and 'his' in English actually has a neuter gender, as does the word 'man' as in MANkind, the ascent of MAN, etc. I think this silliness has its root in a sort of degraded feminism that seeks to change the world through revising language(it didn't need revision in the first place)instead of doing rather more useful things like addressing the need for free, quality, twenty-four-hour child care, equal pay or 12 months of paid maternity leave.

: I have seen this carried to the point where certain child care books refer to babies only as 'she' or alternate pronouns every other paragraph in some strange attempt to be fair.

: More sinisterly, this pronoun confusion has led some feminist and post modern philosophers to conclude that the key ideals of the Enlightenment, 'all men are created equal', for example, only refer to men. Therefore, they reason, it's impossible for men and women to strive for or to achieve equality. Men and woman are different, after all and since they can't conceive of the idea that equality might mean 'to each according to his need' instead of reducing humanity to a common state of regimentation and misery, all they can really talk about is 'difference,(or differAnce if they happen to be pretentious and/or French).

: Having sabotaged the struggle to achieve a universalist human potential, they return to language and proceed to muck that up as well.

: This marriage of bad language and bad politics pushes all my buttons, especially before coffee.

: Crankily yours,

: Camelita

Using "their" for a singular noun gets on my last good nerve. I edit documents at work and all day long I have to make that correction. Here's something I put together for a business writing course that was canceled for lack of interest:

Common Grammar Error 1 - He/she/they

The business world is not a boys' club anymore and business writing should reflect that. Writers should use (excuse the jargon) gender-inclusive or gender-neutral language.

But watch out for a common grammatical error - using a plural pronoun (they) with a singular noun (employee) - made while trying to achieve that goal:

Incorrect: A department employee should make sure they dress appropriately.
Better: A department employee should make sure he or she dresses appropriately.
Best: Department employees should make sure they dress appropriately.

The third example involves rewriting the sentence to avoid having to use "he or she." Here are some other examples taken from "How to Write First-Class Business Correspondence":

Avoid: The prudent executive needs to know where his money goes.
Revised: Prudent executives need to know where their money goes. Or: As a prudent executive, you need to know where your money goes.

Avoid: If the manager files his or her report by Wednesday, he or she will have the revised copy returned to him or her on Friday.
Revised: Managers who file their reports on Wednesday will have a revised copy returned to them by Friday.

Avoid: Don't judge someone simply on the basis of his sex or color.
Revised: Don't judge someone simply on the basis of sex or color.
Or: Don't judge people simply on the basis of sex or color.