There is no gender-neutral, singular pronoun in English. This presents a challenge for people who want to use inclusive language and avoid sexist language in their writing.
Traditionally, “he” has been used, but that’s obviously sexist. As I’ve indicated in the past, using “their” is a perfectly reasonable alternative and has been in use for centuries. The problem, of course, is that a grammar “rule” heavily engrained into our society’s psyche and perpetuated by English teachers around the world is that “they” is a third-person pronoun, so should be reserved for referring in the third person to more than one person.
If “they” sounds too uncomfortable to you (even though it’s perfectly fine to use), try these 5 tips to avoid using sexist singular pronouns:
1. Avoid using pronouns
One way to avoid using sexist singular pronouns is to avoid pronouns altogether. If there’s no pronoun at all, then you don’t need to choose between singular and so-called plural pronouns.
- The manager is responsible for
- The doctor must see all
of herpatients this afternoon.
2. Write in the plural
If you want to use “they” but feel uncomfortable about pairing it with singular nouns, consider rewriting your sentence using plural nouns.
- All clerks must stamp their timecards at the end of their shift.
- Parents should complete and return their child’s permission slip by Friday.
3. Repeat the noun
Another trick is to repeat the noun that the pronoun would typically replace.
- Each writer must submit a manuscript. The writer must do so two months prior to publication.
- Each welder wears overalls and gloves to work. The welder pays for them out of pocket.
4. Use a neutral word
An acceptable alternative to “they” is “one”. It’s awkward and a bit formal, but you’ll receive less pushback when you use it.
- One does not shirk one’s duties.
- One must walk one’s dog.
5. Use second-person pronouns
Finally, instead of worrying about the struggle between first and second-person pronouns, switch to second-person pronouns:
- As a student, make sure you bring your pencil to the exam.
- You should eat fresh fruit and vegetables if you want to extend your life.
There are my 5 tips to avoid using sexist singular pronouns. Did I miss other tips? Let me know in the comments below, or tweet met at @hotpepper.
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