Gendered Pronouns

When we looked at the characteristics of nouns and pronouns, we found that third-person pronouns are gendered. That is, they refer to male, female, or neutral nouns. This can cause you problems if you are referring to a noun that has no definite gender. Consider these sentences:

George Washington insisted that he could not tell a lie. Is there any politician today who is so honest in his dealings with the public?

The first sentence is lovely, but the second? Time was, politicians were all male, and his was an acceptable third-person singular pronoun even when the antecedent could be a woman. Today, however, the masculine pronoun is no longer acceptable to most readers. Here are a few ways of getting around this problem.

1. Use his or her, s/he, and other such constructions.
These phrases avoid the problem of gender bias, but they are rather clunky. For example:

Is there any politician today who is so honest in his or her dealings with the public?

2. Use they, them, and their as if they were singular pronouns. Many grammar purists (and faculty) dislike this usage, but it has grown in acceptance. If we adopted this strategy, our sentence would read:

3. Rewrite the sentence in the plural. This is the easiest, best-looking way to solve the gender problem, and I strongly recommend it. With this trick, our sentence would read:

Are there any politicians today who are so honest in their dealings with the public?

Since politicians is plural, we can avoid choosing between his, her, his/her, etc., and simply select the gender-neutral their.

If, however, a pronoun's antecedent has a definite gender, then a gendered pronoun is okay. For instance, all NBA players really are male and all WNBA players really are female, so these sentences are fine:

An NBA player must trust his agent.

A WNBA player must trust her agent.

The issue only arises when a noun potentially refers to either men or women. In that case, use one of the solutions above.

Pronoun Agreement

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