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gender inclusivity: pronouns

English has no third-person singular personal pronoun that is gender-inclusive. As a result, writers have a problem finding a pronoun to refer to a singular word that includes both genders.

The traditional solution was to use the generic masculine he (him, his); however, that solution is considered sexist today.

Here are some possible solutions to this dilemma:

1. Use he or she:

If you use he or she (or him or her, or his or her), do not put the second pronoun in parentheses:

  • When a finalist is eliminated, he or she receives a consolation prize.
    [not he (or she) receives a consolation prize]

This solution is gender-inclusive but may become awkward if used repeatedly. If possible, use one of the other solutions listed below instead.

2. 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.

Note: In speech and informal writing, the plural pronoun they is routinely 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.

In formal writing, this use of they is not universally accepted. To avoid criticism, pluralize the word to which the pronoun refers, as in the first set of examples above.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. Use a neutral word such as "one," "person" or "individual":

  • the person’s duties (not his duties)

7. 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.