He/she - they

From Hull AWE
Jump to: navigation, search

Student writers may find that they are marked for errors when they use simple and obvious words like her, she and they. This is most usually a problem with Number in grammar, but it's also connected with problems of apparent sexism in language use.

It is a matter of how clear the writer's mind is about the people being discussed. Thus far, it is partly a matter of Psychological perceptions - of the thought in the mind, and the words in which it is expressed. It is usually entirely obvious to a reader what the writer means; but that is not precise enough for academic English. Good academic writers take care to say precisely what they mean: they do not rely on the common expression in conversation "You know what I mean". They say what they mean. That should be your aim too.

Do not become entangled in the problems of sexist language. It is much easier to write in the plural. "Students should check their work" is good English. "A student should check - " is also good English, but now the problems begin: "- her work"? "- his work"? Which? You can write "his or her", but that seems clumsy; and "his/her", and the more alphabetical "her/his", are even clumsier. Stick to the plural: say "students should check their work."

But never say "A student should check their work": "a singular student" should not have a plural pronoun

This is not just a grammatical point: it satisfies the demands of logic. "Students should check their work" is also more elegant.