Thursday, March 31, 2011

September 1993: Generic "He" and Singular "They"

Question: How do we resolve the problem of “Everyone returned to his house”?

Answer: Make “they” singular. Change the language.

The authors suggest that “they” be accepted as singular.

Comment: Use some common sense. Simply start in the plural and stay there. Instead of “Everyone returned to his house,” use the following: “All of the students returned to their houses.” Besides the subject is more precise. Preferable to alternating “his” and “her” as in “Everyone returned to his or her house” (ugly) or the traditionally ungrammatical “Everyone returned to his house.” I wrote a 580-page books in which I consciously began in the plural and stayed there. Many things wrong with that book, but I noticed how smoothly the language flowed when I started in the plural and stayed there. RayS.

Title: “The Politics of Grammar Handbooks: Generic He and Singular They. Sharon Zuber and Ann M. Reed. College English (September 1993), 515-532.

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