Writing Style – He Versus They
Nicole’s question: “I recently received an email from an employee looking for clarity between he and they. If you are not sure of the gender would you say ‘He will attend training’ or ‘They will attend training’?”
BizWritingTip response: The answer to this question has changed over time. In the past, writers used the pronouns he, his, him or himself when unsure of the gender. The pronouns were considered all inclusive. However, this is now considered outdated and sexist.
Examples (grammatically correct but outdated)
If your child wants to attend med school, he should study hard. (What about your daughter?)
A politician should post his expenses on line. (What about female politicians?)
There are now other options to make your writing “gender-neutral.”
1. You could make the noun plural and rework the rest of the sentence.
If your children want to attend med school, they should study hard. (And you better start saving.)
Politicians should post their expenses on line.
They will attend training.
2. You could use he or she or his or her or he/she or his/her.
If your child wants to attend med school, he or she should study hard.
A politician should post his/her expenses on line.
He/she will attend training.
Although awkward, this can work well — as long as you don’t have to keep repeating he or she or his /her throughout a lengthy document.*
3. According to the Oxford Dictionaries Online, although it is not grammatically correct, the practice of using plural pronouns to refer to a singular noun is now acceptable. *
If your child wants to attend med school, they should study hard.
A politician should post their expenses on line.
* If your organization has a style guide, naturally you would follow its advice.