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Someone is a -it- , a -he- or a -she- Options
jagh55
Posted: Monday, July 6, 2009 11:06:24 PM
Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 6/26/2009
Posts: 312
Neurons: 920
Hi! Dancing I have a question. When you speak or write about someone and you don't know if it's a she or a he what do you say?Eh?

For exemple: I know someone who's a huge fan of Twilight ((Whistle )). She's truly madly deeply in love with Edward.

I know what to write since I know her and I know she's a girl.

But what if I don't know wheter it's a girl or a boy and it doesn't really matter.

For exemple: When someone is depressed, it means he/she/it doesn't have any friends. (!)

Is it possible to use -they- ? When someone is depressed, it means they don't have any friends.

I know you can say something like -one-(which is the same thing as you i think like in this sentence) but then what pronoun do you use?

Hope my question's clear Brick wall Anxious Anxious Brick wall
By the way, *Truly madly deeply in love*, can you say that?*d'oh!
grammargeek
Posted: Monday, July 6, 2009 11:21:59 PM
Rank: Advanced Member

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Location: Arizona, U.S.
Good luck jagh55!

I tried asking the same question, but it was in reference to members. I asked about the use of "they" but almost nobody commented on that in particular. A few people seemed to prefer "he" as being all inclusive, but I'm still not very happy with that myself.

At least 10 of the posts I got in response had nothing to do with my question. I gave up.

p.s. I could have said "truly, madly, deeply" in love until my boyfriend of 10 years died.
epistemologist
Posted: Tuesday, July 7, 2009 12:34:51 AM
Rank: Newbie

Joined: 4/22/2009
Posts: 1
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Location: Canada

My take is to avoid having the reference to -it-, -he- or -she- in the same sentence whenever you can.
It would give something like: "Someone friendless is inclined to depression" or "Someone without friends is depressive".
Yikes, maybe I should revisit my "friends" list on MySpace...

P.S. And yes you can truly madly deeply utterly completely absolutely say anything you want. It is a free country after all.Applause
Vikran
Posted: Tuesday, July 7, 2009 6:46:04 AM
Rank: Member

Joined: 5/2/2009
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Location: Italy
When someone is depressed, it means they don't have any friends.

This one is totally acceptable. It's better to keep it gender neutral, and it's better
than forcing yourself to change it in a way that wouldn't sound natural. Imo.
Minipisikil
Posted: Tuesday, July 7, 2009 10:25:00 AM
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Joined: 6/2/2009
Posts: 78
Neurons: 234
Location: United States
I disagree that using "they" in the singular is acceptable. Saying simply "he or she" is less clumsy than "they," yet people are resistant to it. Epistemologist has the right idea, I think. If using "he or she" makes you uncomfortable, just rework the sentence as he or she suggests.


Vikran wrote:
When someone is depressed, it means they don't have any friends.

This one is totally acceptable. It's better to keep it gender neutral, and it's better
than forcing yourself to change it in a way that wouldn't sound natural. Imo.
Todd C. Williams
Posted: Tuesday, July 7, 2009 11:33:38 AM

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Joined: 5/25/2009
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Location: Camas, Washington, United States
In writing a set of articles, I did a lot of research on this and determined there is only one way to meet everyone's desires. Using "he" was the accepted generic method, but in some publications they would add a declaimer as to not offend women. The use of "it" is wrong for people, "they" is wrong for a sigular case (as Minipisikil says), "he/she" is very frowned upon and "he or she" (or "she or he") is considered awkward. Some sources say to use the old form of "he," others said use "he" or "she," but be consistent. The only thing I found that publishers agreed to was what epistemologist says, reword the sentence to avoid it.
killacasey
Posted: Tuesday, July 7, 2009 11:35:58 AM
Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 4/17/2009
Posts: 52
Neurons: 197
Location: United States
jagh55 wrote:
Hi! Dancing I have a question. When you speak or write about someone and you don't know if it's a she or a he what do you say?Eh?

For exemple: I know someone who's a huge fan of Twilight ((Whistle )). She's truly madly deeply in love with Edward.

I know what to write since I know her and I know she's a girl.

But what if I don't know wheter it's a girl or a boy and it doesn't really matter.

For exemple: When someone is depressed, it means he/she/it doesn't have any friends. (!)

Is it possible to use -they- ? When someone is depressed, it means they don't have any friends.

I know you can say something like -one-(which is the same thing as you i think like in this sentence) but then what pronoun do you use?

Hope my question's clear Brick wall Anxious Anxious Brick wall
By the way, *Truly madly deeply in love*, can you say that?*d'oh!


"They" is perfectly acceptable. Use it.
mail_sandeepkr
Posted: Tuesday, July 7, 2009 11:42:40 AM
Rank: Newbie

Joined: 7/7/2009
Posts: 1
Neurons: 3
Location: India
I totally agree to what Minipisikil and Williamstdd have written.

It's possible to explore the usage of "one".

If one is depressed, it means one doesn't have friends.
Minipisikil
Posted: Tuesday, July 7, 2009 11:53:44 AM
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Posts: 78
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Location: United States
What is your source for that statement?


killacasey wrote:
["They" is perfectly acceptable. Use it.
[/quote]
arthbard
Posted: Tuesday, July 7, 2009 2:03:21 PM
Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 3/26/2009
Posts: 63
Neurons: 189
Location: South Carolina
To be perfectly honest, I've never really understood why "it" isn't considered appropriate for this situation. It's singular, it doesn't imply gender ... We're more than happy to use it in reference to other gendered creatures like dogs and cats. The idea that "it" is an acceptable word for everything in the world except people seems like an arbitrary distinction. But, no one ever accused the English language of being consistent and logical.

As it stands, there isn't really a very good answer to the question. I've been known to use "one" in such situations, but the general consensus seems to be that, while that works, it's a bit stuffy.

Grammar Girl had this to say on the subject:

Quote:
Taryn from Evansville, David from New Jersey, and a listener named Gina also asked about this problem, and I think Betty summed it up best by saying, “He or she seems too awkward, he seems sexist, and one seems archaic.” I would add that exclusively using she also seems sexist, the hybrid s/he seems silly and awkward, and switching between he and she is downright confusing to readers. A listener named Bryan called switching between he and she “whiplash grammar,” which I loved. Then there's the solution that everyone loves to hate—using the personal pronoun they, which breaks the rule that you don't use a plural pronoun with a singular antecedent.

...

If I'm writing a formal document, I'll use he or she. For example, he or she accidentally knocked over a water bottle. Admittedly, it's a little awkward, but if you're already using formal language, I don't think it's too distracting. (This is also the solution recommended by The American Heritage College Dictionary.)

I will state for the record that I am a firm believer that someday they will be the acceptable choice for this situation. English currently lacks a word that fits the bill, and many people are already either mistakenly or purposefully using they as a singular generic personal pronoun; so it seems logical that rules will eventually move in that direction.

Nevertheless, it takes a bold, confident, and possibly reckless person to use they with a singular antecedent today. I could almost feel people's blood pressure rising as I started to imply that it is OK to use they.

The thing is, if you are a respected editor in charge of writing a style guide for your entire organization, you can get away with making it acceptable to use they with a singular antecedent. I would even encourage you to do so, and there are a variety of credible references that will back you up including the Random House Dictionary and Fowler's Modern English Usage. You would be in the company of revered authors such as Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, and Shakespeare. But, if you are responsible to superiors, there's a good chance that at least one of them will think you are careless or ignorant if you use they with a singular antecedent. When I'm writing for a client who doesn't have a style guide, I always, always use he or she.

...

So here's the bottom line: Rewrite your sentences to avoid the problem. If that's not possible, check to see if the people you are writing for have a style guide. If not, use he or she if you want to play it safe, or use they if you feel bold and are prepared to defend yourself.


In an informal context, I'd say "they" is probably safe. Most non-grammar-hounds won't care, and the reasonable grammar hounds are likely to forgive you. Of course, if the context is formal, it's probably safer just to go ahead and sound stiff and, well, formal.
Minipisikil
Posted: Tuesday, July 7, 2009 6:42:13 PM
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Joined: 6/2/2009
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Location: United States
"One" may sound stuffy, "he or she" may seem awkward to some, but to my ear, "they" doesn't sound so much informal as ignorant. I use "he or she." It takes no effort to do so, although it may take some effort to get over your self-consciousness in using it. Try it a few times and it will become natural, even in informal speech.
risadr
Posted: Wednesday, July 8, 2009 10:53:12 AM
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Joined: 3/16/2009
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Location: PA, United States
While it may sound stilted and stuffy to say one, it is technically correct. One should never use they as a singular pronoun.

And as to the question about "truly, madly, deeply" I say use it as you see fit. There's a Savage Garden song by that name, about love, so that is the most common connotation I associate with it.
jagh55
Posted: Wednesday, July 8, 2009 8:34:44 PM
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Joined: 6/26/2009
Posts: 312
Neurons: 920
Thanks y'all for the great replies They helped me a lot =)
arthbard
Posted: Thursday, July 9, 2009 2:28:07 PM
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Location: South Carolina
As far as mixing plural and singular goes, I wonder if anyone has any qualms with the word "you." I use the same word (and grammar) to refer to a single "you" as I would to a whole group of "you." It wasn't always this way. English once had a perfectly good word used to refer to a single "you." That word was "thou." Apparently, English picked up on the curious French tradition of replacing the singular "tu" with the plural "vous" as a sign of respect when talking to a single person (which, if you ask me, is a bit of a bizarre convention, but then, I'm not French). Of course, everyone likes to be respected, and when in doubt it was probably safer to use the respectful version. So, over time, the plural "you" overtook the singular "thou" to the point where "thou" is now considered to be archaic and obsolete. Also, stuffy.

I put it to everyone that the word "you" is plural. We use it to refer to a single person. We still conjugate the verbs associated with "you" as if it were referring to multiple people, even when it isn't. We accept this as correct. Now, is this correct because of the rules of grammar, or do we simply take it as correct because it's been so widely used this way for so many years?

Obviously, the grammar world has not yet met the singular "they" with the same degree of acceptance as the singular "you," but it seems reasonable to expect that it will happen eventually. In the meantime, one uses the singular they at his or her own risk, but the convention is widely used in places where many feel the modern language lacks a fully-acceptable alternative. One might even argue that the popular world has already embraced this usage and the world of Official 100% Totally Correct Grammar simply hasn't caught up, yet.

Minipisikil wrote:
"One" may sound stuffy, "he or she" may seem awkward to some, but to my ear, "they" doesn't sound so much informal as ignorant. I use "he or she." It takes no effort to do so, although it may take some effort to get over your self-consciousness in using it. Try it a few times and it will become natural, even in informal speech.

risadr wrote:
While it may sound stilted and stuffy to say one, it is technically correct. One should never use they as a singular pronoun.

I don't want to suggest that everyone should ignore respected grammar sources on this by running around using singular they all willy-nilly, but I will defend it to a certain extent. You're both technically correct, of course (as a bureaucrat on Futurama once said, "the best kind of correct"), but there's more to writing than following rules. We're not dealing with algebra, here. As I said earlier, I like to use "one" on occasion, but I also enjoy writing quirky-sounding, weird sentences. That isn't necessarily for everyone in every situation, and we probably shouldn't discount that fact. We're talking about a medium where the writer carefully chooses his or her words for a certain purpose. Specific phrasings are used to create style and tone. If part of that intended style is to create non-stuffy, non-archaic, contemporary-sounding sentences, then the modern English language rather leaves us in the lurch, here.

If there were an acceptable substitute that didn't leave one sounding as if one had the proverbial stick up one's proverbial bodily orifice, I'd probably be more inclined to criticize this particular convention. In a formal setting, certainly I'd advise everyone to avoid it like the plague. Even outside of a formal setting, one should probably proceed with caution. If a sentence can be reworded in a non-awkward fashion to avoid the issue entirely, then by all means reword that sentence. If that isn't possible, and you let a few theys slip here and there in an entirely informal context, then I say this is forgivable. It's probably not a mortal sin.

But that's just me speaking. Obviously, I don't necessarily reflect the common attitudes of the grammatical world at large.
Luftmarque
Posted: Thursday, July 9, 2009 2:40:08 PM

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arthbard wrote:
If there were an acceptable substitute that didn't leave one sounding as if one had the proverbial stick up one's proverbial bodily orifice, I'd probably be more inclined to criticize this particular convention. In a formal setting, certainly I'd advise everyone to avoid it like the plague. Even outside of a formal setting, one should probably proceed with caution. If a sentence can be reworded in a non-awkward fashion to avoid the issue entirely, then by all means reword that sentence. If that isn't possible, and you let a few theys slip here and there in an entirely informal context, then I say this is forgivable. It's probably not a mortal sin.

Your post, especially the above paragraph, really put this topic together for me, thanks! This will now be my position, too. And if someone has a problem with that, well, then they can take it to People's Grammar Court.
Vayres
Posted: Friday, July 10, 2009 8:36:48 PM
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I agree with using 'they'. So what if there's a discrepancy between number agreement. I'm sure there are plenty of other grammar quirks much stranger that we accept without thought. Language is weird.

And we have singular words that are comprised of plural parts, the state, the family, etc. Why not a plural word comprising a single part? (Though this argument doesn't inspire me with complete confidence.)
steve4nlanguage
Posted: Friday, July 10, 2009 9:53:43 PM
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Joined: 7/10/2009
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Location: Taiwan
I remember reading a book from the 70s--The People's Almanac #2--that discussed this issue. Feminism was reaching new heights at the time, and the traditional use of the universal 'he' was considered somewhat subversive to the movement. The author suggested using a series of new pronouns: þe [subject], þim [object], and þir(s) [possessive]. He felt that reintroducing the letter thorn (þ) back into English would make these pronouns stand out, both in speaking and in writing, thus reminding society that language should not favor one gender over the other.

I myself feel comfortable using 'he' (and 'they' informally), but maybe that's because I'm a guy Anxious

BTW, Chinese uses different characters for 3rd person singular pronouns--he(他), she(她), it-object(它), it-animal(牠), and a special pronoun for God(祂)--but, thankfully, they're all pronounced exactly the same ("ta")!

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