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Pronouns—Issues of Gender

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There are many instances in which you will refer to a single person, but an abstract one—an individual who has not been defined yet, meaning that it could be a he or a she. A long time ago, writers used to use the male third person pronoun in such cases, but as women gained more access to professions and power, just relying on he became inadequate. (There are a quite a number of English language instruction books out there that still use he in all cases, so be careful!) One acceptable option is to use “he or she”/”him or her” and “his or hers”:

  • Example: The position of regional manager will require 50 hours of work per week on average. He or she will also travel widely, and will need to provide his or her own transportation.

Some readers find this a little awkward. Instead, you may be able to use combined forms: “s/he,” “(s)he,” “him/her,” “his/her.” These may not be acceptable in all situations, so you’ll need to find out whether it’s acceptable in a given context. Some writers use a gender neutral plural form (“they,” “them,” “their”). Because these pronouns are primarily associated with plurals, though, readers may not accept them as substitutes for third person singular pronouns.

For more information on pronouns, visit the following OWL resources: