Submitted by avery  •  May 12, 2004

Pronouns

Is there a non-gendered 3rd person singular pronoun that could be used in the place of that awkward he/she? If not, what about ze?

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I've always used 'they' or 'their' but recently learnt in Australia (and it's probably the same in England, but not necessarily America) that 'they' or 'their' is incorrect, and rather 'he' or 'his' should be used even though the person in question may be female.

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The idea of the difference between sex and gender is one of my favorite subjects!
Basicaly sex refers to biological descriptions, where as gender describes social constructs.
as an aside, my ex girlfriend got the rule for changeing the he/she (either or) to they or their mixed up with transsexual issues and thought that you could say "they" in place of the offensive he/she (both) phrase.

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Alec, that rule you mentioned was considered correct up until as late as twenty or so years ago, but the balance has now shifted. Such things do not happen all at once; there is no legislative body decreeing, "from this point forward, everyone will speak using the following construction...."

If you follow the link I posted you'll see that the usage "they" has a long and distinguished history, and is now getting the attention it deserves for being the most becoming and natural solution to the indeterminate-gender-pronoun problem in English.

You'll still get arguments from people who think the old rule is (or should be) correct, but I think you will find that their insistence on "he" and "his" for all such cases is really no solution at all.

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Speedwel
I think Alec is somehow right. I don't know about Australia but I can notice this "he" and "His" a lot more in the English English books more then one could find in American's for instance. It could also be seen in the current publications. I think it's a matter of British norms and stuff, you know.

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Goossun... Yes, that's possible. I tend to lean more toward linguistic descriptivism ("That's the way it is! Because that's the way it is!") than prescriptivism ("That's the way it's going to be! Because we said so!") though I often forget that there's more than one dialect being described!

Wish me luck, by the way... I let one of our engineers from the Aberdeen office dare me to study Scots. Oh, why do I let myself in for this sort of thing....

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Scots? That's a wee bit difficult, though nice try. We mighn't ge' whatch ya sayin' anymore, love"!

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Yes, let's use ze. Ze person felt like doing zis.

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This really bothers me too. My rationale is that I am a man, so I use 'he' consistently. I feel that if I were a woman, I would use 'she' consistently. I wish that the government would step in and officially endorse (not enforce) a rule. If they tell me that it should always be 'she', I would have no problem; I would follow that consistently. It's just a matter of agreeing with something, so that we don't have to worry about being called a sexist, or keep using 'he/she'.

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I haven't ever had a problem avoiding the use of "he" and "she." Sentences, whenever appropriate, can always be recast. The sentences are usually improved as a result.

Examples:

1) "Everyone in the Engineering department has renewed his or her IEEE membership." Recast: "All IEEE members in the Engineering department have renewed their memberships."

2) "When you find out who has the highest grade in the class, give him or her this award." Recast: "Give this award to the student with the highest grade."

The use of the plural "they" is currently the "best-practices," most accepted, alternative.

Example:

3) "Someone has left their umbrella on their seat. They had better come pick it up before it gets stolen."

More information here on why the usage of "they" and "their" is perfectly acceptable (and has been for a long time): http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/austheir.ht...

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It probably goes without saying that if an individual's sex is known, then there is no further question about what pronoun is most appropriate.

Slightly off subject: A teacher I had in college used to insist that we used "sex" and "gender" properly. They do not mean the same thing. As he put it, "Things that 'have sex' have 'sex.' Everything else has 'gender.'" Be aware that it is incorrect (though common) to refer to a person's "gender."

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You're teacher was right speedwell. The "gender" in language(s) has little to do with "sex". Even in the languages where a same pronoun is used for the both "sexes" there could still be a distinguish between "genders".

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Dyske said: "I wish that the government would step in and officially endorse (not enforce) a rule."

Gives new meaning to the term "grammar police." LOL

With all due respect... if the government involvement in the English language is as effective as most other government programs are, we'll be speaking in grunts in forty years, and paying higher taxes to compensate the telephone company for loss of business.

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While I'm off the subject...

It's apparently NOT inappropriate to refer to a person's "gender" if you are referring to what is called their "gender identity," as opposed to their biologically determined sex. Someone born a man (for example) who would rather identify as a woman is called "transgendered," but he wouldn't be considered a 'transsexual" until after the operation.

Talk about pronoun confusion. One of my ex-boyfriends is now a woman (no, really, this is true). I have to stop and think which pronoun to use, following a somewhat arbitrary rule that when he was a man, I use the male-gendered pronoun, but now that she is a woman, I use the female-gendered pronoun. This results in such monstrosities as, "I was talking to my ex-boyfriend the other day, and she told me about her home business."

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