Gender-Neutral Third Person Pronoun

I am with Kevin Drum.  I got tired of using "his or her" or some other such kluge some time back.  I am using "their" until someone defines a better third person possessive pronoun that is gender-neutral (ditto "them" for "him or her").  After all, unlike French, English is a bottom-up language defined by common use rather than unchanging top-down rules.  So if enough of us use "their", it will become correct.

For those of you too young to remember, the invention of "Ms." as a generic women's prefix was one of the greatest improvements in the English language in my lifetime.  If you despair sometimes in looking down a list of names and trying to guess if the person is a "Mr." or "Ms." (remember "Pat" on Saturday Night Live), you wouldn't believe what a pain in the rear it was to figure out if one should use "Miss" or "Mrs."  for a given female.


  1. Bram:

    It would be good news if premiums were dropping while deductibles were rising. As it is, it's just a good example of how awful government intervention in the economy can be.

  2. Brian:

    Watching TCM the other day, a woman was speaking to her son and his lover, soon to be separated by war. She said, "And when this thing is over, each of you will return to his home, and..." I didn't get the rest. I was agog at the usage which was obviously proper and so very frowned upon today.

  3. Mole1:

    @ Brian,
    I have always thought that the fact that women get their own pronoun while men have to share theirs with women should be used as a counterargument in typical arguments over the propriety of gendered pronoun usage.

    @ Coyote,
    I have found it amusing watching Wimbledon recently, where "Miss" is used for married women who have not taken their husband's last name.

    At the end of the day, I don't get very concerned about these things.

  4. EE:

    No, that "men have to share their [pronoun]" does not support your "counterargument." For example, the generalized term 'guys' is conventionally a catch-all term, not dissimilar from how, say, Spanish plurals operate. This English usage is tradition, not exactly a chosen convention.

  5. Matthew Slyfield:

    Personally, I refuse to use their/them in cases where the gender is unknown but the subject is known to be singular. I will simply use either male or female pronouns for such cases as my mood dictates and anyone who doesn't like it can go pound sand for all I care.

  6. Rick C:

    There's already a set of gender-neutral pronouns: he/him/his.
    Yes, really.

  7. Stan:

    Yes, like Rick C says, there already are a bunch of those. Xe (or Ze), Xem, and Xyr/Xir. The problem is they are pretty weird (having them spelled with Xs, I think, is enough to warrant the weird label), and are only in common use by socially fringe minorities--thus contributing to the lack of acceptance and usage.

  8. jdgalt:

    Never heard of any of those, but I often run across "hir" and "s/he". Those (or "their", or even "he") should be clear enough to any reader that I find hilarious any objection to any of them by self-appointed "grammar police".

    Interestingly, about a year ago a French feminist group announced that we should now call all women there "Madame" (Mrs.), whether married or not. They want the word "Mademoiselle" (Miss) abandoned. If the Academie Française has ruled for or against the idea, I haven't heard about it.

  9. hcunn:

    I have been using they/their/them for gender-unknown third-person singular for several decades. It is consistent with our use of "you/your/you" for the second person singular. Apart from Quakers at meeting, who else has been saying "thou/thy/thee" conversationally in recent centuries? (Even Quakers have dropped "thou," using "thee" for both nominative and objective cases.)

    I am aware of the grammarian's convention (pace Rick C.) of the "unmarked" or gender-neutral he/his/him, but, as a French import, it does not work in conversational English, certainly not in contexts where sex matters.

    French, unlike English, does not have a neuter gender like it/its/it. Even tables and cheeses are assigned male or female genders.

    Another, unrelated grammatical innovation I heartily approve of is the Texan "you all" as a second person plural, distinct from the second person singular "you." They may have picked it up from their Mexican days, as translations of "vos" and vosotros." I cringe when I hear people say "you all" as a corn-ified *singular*.

  10. jon49:

    New gender-neutral pronouns, instead of he/him/his use e/er/ers

  11. RickCaird:

    As I recall, the idea of "Pat" was there was no way to tell what sex the person was. In that case, Ms., Miss, or Mrs. was of no help.

  12. obloodyhell:

    I've been doing this for two decades. It's really not that odd sounding. I do still use "he" on occasion, but I tend towards "their"

  13. obloodyhell:

    Clearly, you are a quack and a charlatan. A REAL southerner (not just "Texan") would know it's "Y'all".


  14. obloodyhell:

    The French are idiots. No one should care about what they do or what happens to them. Their responses to Islamic issues alone should demonstrate that. We're eventually going to have to irradiate Europe thanks to their ilk.

  15. obloodyhell:

    umm? Wrong thread?

  16. antiquarian:

    I'm with you-- "their" is just fine. Though I like the idea someone had back when this first became a kerfuffle-- "he or she, it", to be abbreviated h'orsh'it.