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Gender-neutral pronouns

As English has no gender-neutral pronoun in the singular (its can only be used of objects, not of people) writers are faced with a knotty problem when they want to speak of one person, but either don’t want to identify that person by sex, or don’t know what it is. This is a matter of increasing importance as writers and their readers are becoming more sensitive to the sexist implications of such language. Various solutions are possible:

As you can see, there is no perfect solution. The best options seem to be to use the plural pronouns them and their in casual or informal writing and rewrite your text to avoid the problem in more formal writing.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 12 Sep. 1999
Last updated: 27 Oct. 2002

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/articles/genpr.htm
Last modified: 27 October 2002.