The Web of Language

blog navigation

The Web of Language
Dennis Baron's go-to site for language and technology in the news

Welcome to the Web of Language
Please join me in discussions, bookmark Web of Language, follow me on Twitter @DrGrammar, get the RSS feed, or subscribe today.


blog posts

  • What's your pronoun?


Comments Sep 4, 2015 2:19 pm

Interesting post. I had no idea the notion of alternative pronouns had such a long and fascinating history. Thank you for expanding my horizons.  Though I know I am in the minority, I am not completely ready to take "they" as singular in writing--in speech, yes, but not in writing. I think sentences can be recast fairly simply to avoid the issue altogether, and suggest to my students that some in their audience may be old pedants who will not accept such a use.

Reply to at 2:19 pm Sep 6, 2015 12:55 am

{NB: an unfinished draft was submitted and cdn't see how to correct or finish so submitting this,}

1 - was told Sweden has made up a new word to be third person singular possessive pronoun adjective.

2 - "To each his own" is still acceptable, isn't it?

3 - if you know the person, you can say hia book, her keys, etc, if not and a general statement, just change the sentence to the plural: 

       as in:  readers will have to decide for themselves

                 drivers must sign their licences

                 diners must finish their dinners by 8 o'clock

We must also work on bringing back either a singular or a plural for ‘you’.


Reply to at 12:55 am Sep 7, 2015 2:18 am

When reading literature on child rearing it is obvious that a gender neutral pronoun is needed.  Often writers seem to switch between he and she at will in the same article in order to show that what is said is meant for both genders of children.

Reply to at 2:18 am Sep 7, 2015 9:10 am

Baron asserts that "language doesn’t respond well to the demands of ... grammarians". Perhaps he is unaware of Robert Baker, a singularly unqualified grammarian whose personal preferences have had a formative impact on our usage ever since.

Reply to at 9:10 am Sep 7, 2015 9:29 am

The "problem" I have encountered is not so much with the pronoun as with the "Title" (Mr., Mrs., Ms., Mx., Dr., etc.).  I don't care what title others prefer; I prefer no title whatsoever.  Unfortunately, many web sites do not allow this option.  However, to address the topic: I have "always" used singular they and similar forms.  As for plural second person, I always use "all of you", "both of you", etc.  I don't much care what the "grammarians" say about it (including the use of air quotes <g>).  McWhorter is one of my heroes.

Reply to at 9:29 am Sep 7, 2015 11:33 am

You guys apparently have never discovered the virtues of "ya'll." ;-)

I recently posted a summary of a discussion of gender-neutral pronouns by Kimberly Drake in the online journal The Writing Instructor: "Genderqueering Language at a 'Women's' College" (The summary is at my blog, College Composition Weekly: I found this discussion enlightening as to some of the political nuances of gender-neutral efforts. These efforts do present special challenges to same-sex institutions, which now face re-evaluating their roles and identities.

Reply to at 11:33 am martyr@suddenlink.netSep 8, 2015 7:18 am

In some parts of the South, "y'all" is singular.  In order to address a group, you have to say, "all y'all" <g>

Attempting to keep up with the current fads of politically correct language thrusts one into the script of an absurdists drama, demonstrating once again that life imitates art.

Reply to at 7:18 am