KudoZ home » English » Other

The individual has to learn for him or herself to take hold of "their" life

English translation: They, them, their are OK in singular

Advertisement

Login or register (free and only takes a few minutes) to participate in this question.

You will also have access to many other tools and opportunities designed for those who have language-related jobs
(or are passionate about them). Participation is free and the site has a strict confidentiality policy.
01:01 Apr 1, 2002
English to English translations [PRO]
English term or phrase: The individual has to learn for him or herself to take hold of "their" life
I am not sure if the use of "their" is grammatically correct. Can one use "their" in this case instead of repeating "his or her"?
Gail
United States
Local time: 08:35
English translation:They, them, their are OK in singular
Explanation:
Under the entry "Unisex Grammar" the Macmillan Good English Handbook has the following:

``Everybody, everyone, nobody, someone and similar words are singular:

`everybody is ...'. Such words were traditionally followed by he, him, his, blandly assuming that he, him, his, include women: `nobody has taken his seat yet.' This is no longer acceptable to many people. We wear our readers out writing and saying he or she all the time. S/he is clumsy and awkward to say aloud.

More and more writers see the best resolution as using *they*, *them*, *their* as unisex pronouns: `nobody has taken their seat yet' (!) The grammatical objection is that the singular *nobody* conflicts with the plural *their*. In spite of this, *they* and *their* are taking on a *plural* or a *singular* sense as required:
`Whoever is elected will take *their* seat in the House of Commons the next day' (BBC News)
Kauzo Ishiguro in The Remains of the Day (winner of the 1989 Booker Prize) wrote: `... some fellow professional... would be accompanying *their* employer.'

Recommendations:

1. *He*, *him*, *his* should no longer be used to include women.
2. When it is appropriate, *he or she*, *him or her* etc (varied with *she or he* etc) can be used, but not repeatedly in the same text, or it becomes laboured.
3. When it is neither awkward nor misleading, a sentence can be rewritten to sidestep the problem: `nobody has taken their seat yet' could be recast as `people have not taken their seats yet' (although the meaning is not quite the same).
4. In all other cases, use the plural forms *they*, *them*, *their* as singular unisex words, accepting with regret that some readers will shake their heads reproachfully. But you will be in good company: `Nobody prevents you, do *they*?' (Thackeray); `No one would ever marry if *they* thought it over.' (Bernard Shaw)
Selected response from:

Attila Piróth
France
Local time: 14:35
Grading comment
This is what I have been trying to do and wish there were an easier way! However, your explanation has given me the go-ahead. Many thanks to you and all the others who helped with suggestions. Together, I got it!!!
4 KudoZ points were awarded for this answer

Advertisement


Summary of answers provided
4 +4Individuals have to learn for themselves to take hold of their lives
Nora Escoms
5 +2one has to learn for oneself to take hold of one's life.
Theodore Fink
4 +3The individual has to learn how to take care of his or her life.
Kim Metzger
4 +2Grammar aside, the issue has a lot more to do with good ssense.Fuad Yahya
4 +2You must learn for yourself to take charge of your own life.keiva
5They, them, their are OK in singular
Attila Piróth
5of her/his lifeMartina Ley
4 +1You might find it helpful...
Natalia Bearden


  

Answers


24 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5 peer agreement (net): +2
one has to learn for oneself to take hold of one's life.


Explanation:
...

Why not make it easy on yourself?

On the other hand, I may be wrong, but I don't think that even in these post-feminist times women would force us to these clumsy extremes. They know we love and respect them!

Happy Easter!



--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 2002-04-01 01:29:06 (GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

But answering your question directly, I don\'t believe it would be gramatically correct to suddenly change one \"individual\" into two.

Theodore Fink
Local time: 08:35
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish, Native in PortuguesePortuguese
PRO pts in pair: 6

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Maria Knorr
2 hrs
  -> Thanks, Maria.

agree  AhmedAMS
8 days
  -> Thank you,
Login to enter a peer comment (or grade)

34 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +2
You must learn for yourself to take charge of your own life.


Explanation:
This is largely an agreement with Theodore -- but the "one" construction has always struck me as lacking in punch.

keiva

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  swisstell
18 mins

agree  AhmedAMS
8 days
Login to enter a peer comment (or grade)

1 hr   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +1
You might find it helpful...


Explanation:
There was already a similar question asked earlier, you might want to have a look at it:

"I am translating the online help of a software and political correctness (he/she) turned out to be a problem"

Good luck (you will need it in the treacherous world of PC) :o)


    Reference: http://www.proz.com/kudoz/150408
Natalia Bearden
Local time: 05:35
PRO pts in pair: 33

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  AhmedAMS
8 days
Login to enter a peer comment (or grade)

1 hr   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +3
The individual has to learn how to take care of his or her life.


Explanation:
Gail, this is a very important question. I firmly believe that a careful writer would NOT use a plural pronoun (their) to refer to a singular noun (individual). On the other hand, the use of the male pronoun (he, his, him, etc.) is now out. So the challenge is to find an elegant way out. This often involves a little rewriting of the original. There are many solutions. Below are some of them.

What Not to Do
If you've been thinking that you have to break grammar rules to use gender-neutral writing, you may be surprised at what not to do:

Do not use "he" as a generic pronoun; use it only to refer to men and boys.
Do not use "she" as a generic pronoun; use it only to refer to women and girls.
Do not use "they" as a singular pronoun unless you are confident that your audience won't mind. This usage is gaining in popularity and acceptance, but a lot of people dislike it or stumble over it.
Avoid phrases such as "he or she" and "he/she" or made-up words like "s/he."
Do not use a feminized noun (e.g., manageress) when the normal noun (manager) covers both sexes.

What to Do
With what not to do in mind, here are some techniques you can use:

Bypass the problem of gender whenever possible For example, when writing procedures and instructional material, you are usually speaking directly to the reader, so you can use:

Imperative mood (Do this.).
Second person (you) instead of third person (he, the user).
First person plural (we), as used, for example, in parts of this article.

Use plural nouns and plural pronouns Avoid problems with using singular nouns and pronouns by using plural ones, like this:

No To log in, the user must enter his login name and password.
Yes (In a user document) To log in, enter your login name and password.
Yes (In other documents) To log in, users must enter their login names and passwords.
Avoid pronouns completely when you can Instead, try these techniques:

Repeat the noun (sometimes this also makes your meaning clearer):




    Reference: http://www.raycomm.com/techwhirl/magazine/writing/genderneut...
Kim Metzger
Mexico
Local time: 07:35
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in pair: 2249

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Gabriela Tenenbaum: You are truly a teacher, Kim! #:))
10 hrs

agree  Magda Dziadosz: good lesson!
13 hrs

agree  AhmedAMS
8 days
Login to enter a peer comment (or grade)

1 hr   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +2
Grammar aside, the issue has a lot more to do with good ssense.


Explanation:
Consistency (parallel construction), simplicity, and political correctness -- these are all good desiderata. Alas, there are times when satisfying all seems like a lost cause, especially when the language itself (English) would not cooperate.

In some contexts, the expressions "oneself" and "one's life" sound just right. In others, especially when they come in a series, they sound rather stuffy. That has never stopped me from using these expressions, but that is only because I like "stuffy."

If you want to avoid that, then the options are as follows:

1. Use the politically correct "himself or herself" ad nauseam. To be even more PC, use "herself or himself." In some contexts, where the objective is to be specific about the inclusion of both sexes (such as in an employment ad or a court ruling), this approach may be necessary, but in typical writing, I think it impedes readability. I don't think "hermself" would catch on the way "Ms." did.

2. Use the politically incorrect masculine gender throughout. In some writing venues, this is acceptable. In others, you may be ostracized (or worse). This is a judgment call that you will have to make.

3. Use the plural throughout. You can't start with "the individual" and finish with "their lives." If you want to try this approach, then you would say something like

People have to learn for themselves to take hold of their lives.

4. Plastic surgery: The sentence as it stands is awkward with or without the gender issue. You would do the sentence and your reader a big favor by pruning it down a bit. Try this:

The individual has to learn how to take hold of his or her life.

In my judgment, this is the sanest approach, even if you are translating a pre-existing text. I think the writer will bless you for it.

Fuad

Fuad Yahya
Native speaker of: Native in ArabicArabic, Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in pair: 893

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Gayle Wallimann
5 hrs

agree  AhmedAMS
8 days
Login to enter a peer comment (or grade)

2 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +4
Individuals have to learn for themselves to take hold of their lives


Explanation:
Just another idea, in case you don't want to change your phrase much...
Hope it helps

Nora Escoms
Argentina
Local time: 09:35
Native speaker of: Native in SpanishSpanish

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  xxxdepgrl
3 hrs

agree  Margaret Lagoyianni
4 hrs

agree  Gabriela Tenenbaum: #:)
9 hrs

agree  AndrewBM
11 hrs
  -> Thanks,everybody!
Login to enter a peer comment (or grade)

7 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5
of her/his life


Explanation:
When there is a disjunctive conjuction between e.g. subjects, the verb must never be in plural!
That is grammatically wrong.

Martina

Martina Ley
Local time: 14:35
Native speaker of: Native in CzechCzech
PRO pts in pair: 4
Login to enter a peer comment (or grade)

1 day4 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5
They, them, their are OK in singular


Explanation:
Under the entry "Unisex Grammar" the Macmillan Good English Handbook has the following:

``Everybody, everyone, nobody, someone and similar words are singular:

`everybody is ...'. Such words were traditionally followed by he, him, his, blandly assuming that he, him, his, include women: `nobody has taken his seat yet.' This is no longer acceptable to many people. We wear our readers out writing and saying he or she all the time. S/he is clumsy and awkward to say aloud.

More and more writers see the best resolution as using *they*, *them*, *their* as unisex pronouns: `nobody has taken their seat yet' (!) The grammatical objection is that the singular *nobody* conflicts with the plural *their*. In spite of this, *they* and *their* are taking on a *plural* or a *singular* sense as required:
`Whoever is elected will take *their* seat in the House of Commons the next day' (BBC News)
Kauzo Ishiguro in The Remains of the Day (winner of the 1989 Booker Prize) wrote: `... some fellow professional... would be accompanying *their* employer.'

Recommendations:

1. *He*, *him*, *his* should no longer be used to include women.
2. When it is appropriate, *he or she*, *him or her* etc (varied with *she or he* etc) can be used, but not repeatedly in the same text, or it becomes laboured.
3. When it is neither awkward nor misleading, a sentence can be rewritten to sidestep the problem: `nobody has taken their seat yet' could be recast as `people have not taken their seats yet' (although the meaning is not quite the same).
4. In all other cases, use the plural forms *they*, *them*, *their* as singular unisex words, accepting with regret that some readers will shake their heads reproachfully. But you will be in good company: `Nobody prevents you, do *they*?' (Thackeray); `No one would ever marry if *they* thought it over.' (Bernard Shaw)


    The Macmillan Good English Handbook by Godfrey Howard
Attila Piróth
France
Local time: 14:35
Native speaker of: Native in HungarianHungarian
PRO pts in pair: 184
Grading comment
This is what I have been trying to do and wish there were an easier way! However, your explanation has given me the go-ahead. Many thanks to you and all the others who helped with suggestions. Together, I got it!!!
Login to enter a peer comment (or grade)




Return to KudoZ list


KudoZ™ translation help
The KudoZ network provides a framework for translators and others to assist each other with translations or explanations of terms and short phrases.



See also:



Term search
  • All of ProZ.com
  • Term search
  • Jobs
  • Forums
  • Multiple search