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 his clients.
  • The doc­tor must see all of her patients 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.

About Kim Siever

I am a copy­writer and copy­ed­i­tor. I blog on writ­ing tips most­ly, but I some­times throw in my thoughts about run­ning a small busi­ness.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter at @hotpepper.

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