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Appropriate Pronoun Usage

Summary:

This handout will cover some of the major issues with appropriate language use: levels of language formality, deceitful language and euphemisms, slang and idiomatic expressions; using group-specific jargon; and biased/stereotypical language.

Contributors:Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2013-02-25 10:01:39

Because English has no generic singular—or common-sex—pronoun, we have used HE, HIS, and HIM in such expressions as "the student needs HIS pencil." When we constantly personify "the judge," "the critic," "the executive," "the author," and so forth, as male by using the pronoun HE, we are subtly conditioning ourselves against the idea of a female judge, critic, executive, or author. There are several alternative approaches for ending the exclusion of women that results from the pervasive use of masculine pronouns.

Recast into the plural

Reword to eliminate gender problems.

Replace the masculine pronoun with ONE, YOU, or (sparingly) HE OR SHE, as appropriate.

Alternate male and female examples and expressions. (Be careful not to confuse the reader.)

Indefinite Pronouns

Using the masculine pronouns to refer to an indefinite pronoun (everybody, everyone, anybody, anyone) also has the effect of excluding women. In all but strictly formal uses, plural pronouns have become acceptable substitutes for the masculine singular.

An alternative to this is merely changing the sentence. English is very flexible, so there is little reason to "write yourself into a corner":

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