gender inclusivity: pronouns
English has no unique third-person singular personal pronoun that is gender-inclusive. As a result, writers have taken different approaches to finding a pronoun to refer to a singular word that includes all genders.
One traditional solution in formal writing was to use the generic masculine he (him, his); however, that solution is no longer acceptable today.
Here are some possible solutions to this dilemma:
- Use they (them, their) with a singular word:
The plural pronoun they is often used to refer to a singular noun or pronoun:
- When a finalist is eliminated, they receive a consolation prize.
- If someone has a question, ask them for their email address.
- Anyone who wants to take part must put their name on the list.
Although widespread, the use of they for a person of unknown gender is still not universally recommended. If your organization requires you to avoid the singular they, use one of the other techniques in this list.
- Use they (them, their) with a plural word:
- When finalists are eliminated, they receive a consolation prize.
- If participants have questions, ask them for their email address.
- All those who want to take part must put their names on the list.
- Reword to eliminate the pronoun:
- A finalist who is eliminated receives a consolation prize.
- If someone has a question, ask for an email address.
- Anyone who wants to take part must sign the list.
- Address the reader directly (if possible and appropriate):
- If you are eliminated, you will receive a consolation prize.
- If you want to take part, please put your name on the list.
- Repeat the noun:
- An employee must file a grievance within the prescribed time limit. The employee’s union representative will usually be involved at this stage of the process.
- Use a neutral word such as “one,” “person” or “individual”:
- the person’s duties (not his duties)
- Use verbs without a subject when writing texts like job descriptions:
- Develops, implements and evaluates programs to improve information services; directs research in information resource management.
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