Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Use a singular pronoun with singular nouns

Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing, William Safire says in his 15th rule for writers.

If he were writing this today, though, his statement might not get any attention. Using third plural pronouns as gender neutral solutions is becoming more and more accepted. A couple of factors come into play. One is discrimination by always using the male pronoun, another is that not everyone is comfortable with their gender.

For a while, there was a movement advocating using new, made-up words, such as ze, ne, ve, and some others. I haven’t heard anyone mention them for at least two years now, though.

Another solution might be to call everyone “it” instead of “he” or “she.” That doesn’t seem right, though, does it?

Whoever invented the English language (all those millions of people over hundreds of years) just plain forgot to put in a neutral third person singular pronoun, and that makes it hard! Okay, that’s inaccurate. English used to have them, but they’ve fallen by the wayside. “Ou” and “a” are mentioned in this article.

So, since we DO have a neutral third person plural pronoun, it’s getting used more and more when we want to leave the pronoun non-gender-specific. I’m a fan of English language evolution so it doesn’t bother me. In fact, I like it!

 photo from


  1. On a literature exam, my English novels professor referred to all the authors as "he." We studied only one or two female novelists, and using "she" would have given away answers, so in that way it made sense. But even when I knew the answers, it was surprisingly difficult to think of them when the authors were all presented as male. Maybe I should have plugged "she" into all the questions, but I didn't think of it till now. I prefer using "he" for everyone to having to remember the genders of manos and dias and all the others nouns monolinguals like me get tangled up in. Or poor Mark Twain trying to learn German.

  2. Someone goofed when they invented the English language.

  3. I don't consider it a goof; I consider it FREEDOM. I've always loved English for its loosey-goosey attitude and constant molding to everyone's needs, and for the fact that our forefathers (!) didn't insist on making tables girls and sofas boys. That said, I do have pet peeves, but those are mostly grammatical "goofs" that are from just plain laziness. English does have rhythm and beauty, so try not to sound like you've never read a book. That's all I ask!

  4. That's a great way of looking at it. I, too, love the fluidity of the English language. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Eugenia.