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SHE / HE /THEY and HER/HIS/THEIR - a question of style?

English translation: My three cents

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09:36 Aug 4, 2004
English to English translations [Non-PRO]
Art/Literary - Linguistics / grammar/style
English term or phrase: SHE / HE /THEY and HER/HIS/THEIR - a question of style?
What do you prefer?

Examples with "her/his/their":
------------------------------
(1) Everybody wants to have HIS own car. (What about women?)
(2) Everybody wants to have HIS/HER own car. (too clumsy?)
(3) Everybody wants to have THEIR own car. (ungrammatical?)

Examples with "she/he/they":
----------------------------
(1) Everybody should have what HE thinks best.
(2) Everybody should have what HE OR SHE thinks best.
(3) Everybody should have what HE/SHE thinks best.
(4) Everybody should have what SHE/HE thinks best.
(5) Everybody should have whst S/HE thinks best.
(6) Everybody should have what THEY think best.
Christian
Local time: 08:08
English translation:My three cents
Explanation:
(1) Everybody wants to have HIS own car.
- Correct but outdated. Sounds rather sexist and is liable to get you lynched by a phalanx of militant feminists. And rightly so.

(2) Everybody wants to have HIS/HER own car. (too clumsy?)
I use this if it is not possible to reword to "they" - it's OK if it doesn't crop up too often within the same text. Otherwise, you trip over it all the time.

(3) Everybody wants to have THEIR own car. (ungrammatical?)
You would normally say this - simply to avoid the sexism and clumsiness of (1) and (2) - but would not write it.

The solution: if possible, make singular into plurals - i.e. "We are serving customers and their needs" rather than "We are serving the customer and his/her/its (!) needs"

Hope this helps

Ian
Selected response from:

xxxIanW
Local time: 08:08
Grading comment
Thanks a lot for your "three cents", Ian.
4 KudoZ points were awarded for this answer

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Summary of answers provided
4 +5Gender in Scientific and Technical Writing
Kevin Pfeiffer
4 +4My three centsxxxIanW
5A belated answer.
R. A. Stegemann
4"He" and "His" are accepted to mean both the sexes.Ramesh Madhavan


Discussion entries: 18





  

Answers


14 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +4
she / he /they and her/his/their - a question of style?
My three cents


Explanation:
(1) Everybody wants to have HIS own car.
- Correct but outdated. Sounds rather sexist and is liable to get you lynched by a phalanx of militant feminists. And rightly so.

(2) Everybody wants to have HIS/HER own car. (too clumsy?)
I use this if it is not possible to reword to "they" - it's OK if it doesn't crop up too often within the same text. Otherwise, you trip over it all the time.

(3) Everybody wants to have THEIR own car. (ungrammatical?)
You would normally say this - simply to avoid the sexism and clumsiness of (1) and (2) - but would not write it.

The solution: if possible, make singular into plurals - i.e. "We are serving customers and their needs" rather than "We are serving the customer and his/her/its (!) needs"

Hope this helps

Ian

xxxIanW
Local time: 08:08
Works in field
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 20
Grading comment
Thanks a lot for your "three cents", Ian.

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Peter Linton: I agree with everything Ian says - except that I think "Everybody wants THEIR" is such a good solution to the HIS/HER problem that it is now acceptable in writing, at least in anything but very formal writing. It is becoming an honorary singular pronoun.
8 mins

agree  chopra_2002
19 mins

agree  Saleh Chowdhury, Ph.D.
4 hrs

agree  xxxAlfa Trans
9 days
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5 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5
she / he /they and her/his/their - a question of style?
"He" and "His" are accepted to mean both the sexes.


Explanation:
Unless you are very perticular that you should not use ANY WORD with masculine connotations, "HE" and "HIS" are popularly accepted to mean He or She and His or Her. Hope this helps :-)

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 15 mins (2004-08-04 09:51:32 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

Please read \"particular\". Sorry for the typo.

Ramesh Madhavan
Local time: 11:38
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish, Native in TamilTamil
PRO pts in category: 7

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
neutral  xxxIanW: Perhaps this was popularly accepted 50 years ago, but not any more - despite what grammarians may think.
10 mins
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22 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +5
she / he /they and her/his/their - a question of style?
Gender in Scientific and Technical Writing


Explanation:
This is a chapter heading in Elaine Campbell's book "ESL Resource Book for Engineers and Scientists". She begins by reviewing grammatical gender vs. natural gender and then offers the most common ways to "write around" the problem:
1. plural nouns & pronouns ("all managers" and "their reports")
2. eliminate pronoun ("each manager" and "a report")
3. compound pronouns ("each manager" and "his or her...")
4. alternated pronouns (one time "his", the next time "her")

Old-school (I include myself) would say that using "their" as a singular, neutral form is not acceptable in formal writing; in spoken English it's becoming quite common (I believe).

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 24 mins (2004-08-04 10:00:39 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

I forgot to mention that oldtimers would also say that the masculine pronouns _are_ gender-neutral when so used. I, myself, try to avoid the problem unless doing so would require standing on my head. :-)

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 25 mins (2004-08-04 10:01:39 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

\"oldtimers\" includes me as well.

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 45 mins (2004-08-04 10:21:19 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

Hi Christian,

Regarding comments above, you must remember that languages--German and English, at least--have written forms and spoken forms and that there is a difference between prescriptive (rules) and descriptive (reality) grammars. Those working with words, esp. someone else\'s, sit in the middle.


--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 1 hr 15 mins (2004-08-04 10:52:04 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

Last comment (I have to finally work): It is an interesting topic, isn\'t it? Your example, \"Gestern komme ich...\" is one example of \"incorrectness\"--an error which only a non-native speaker would typically make. Maybe you\'ll continue this in the forum? Also, take a look at the Collins Cobuild website (including their description of the Bank of English): http://www.cobuild.collins.co.uk/

Kevin Pfeiffer
Germany
Local time: 08:08
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 4

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  xxxIanW: With you especially on your last point, Kevin, and I'm still in my 20's. I remember on my university application form, they simply used "she" everywhere. Talk about "robbing Peter to pay Paul". (Or Paula?!?)
4 mins

agree  Ana Juliá
16 mins

agree  Vicky Papaprodromou
24 mins

agree  Mikhail Kropotov: several sets of grammar rules do exist! and to be perfectly politically correct Ian should have said "robbing Petra to pay Paula" (sorry if that was not funny...)
36 mins

agree  Refugio
20 hrs
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2 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5
she / he /they and her/his/their - a question of style?
A belated answer.


Explanation:
There was a time when women would use male pen names, so that people would even read what they had written. In some cultures this may still be true. In those cultures where it is not, however, I teach my students the following rule:

If you are a male writer use male pronouns. If you are a female writer use female pronouns. Only switch when it becomes necessary to refer to the opposite sex; otherwise, assume that everyone has some sort of sexual identity, and if they cannot accept yours, then do not be concerned about it, because you probably are not writing on their behalf anyway.



R. A. Stegemann
Saudi Arabia
Local time: 15:08
Specializes in field
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 20
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