Can ‘It’ Solve the Pronoun Conflict?

Pronouns in handcuffsThe squad room was packed with third person plural pronouns hauled in after the Usage Unit’s raid.

“It ain’t fair!” Them protested. “Somebody has to step in and take care of things.”

“Yeah,” They chimed in. “You think He and She are gonna step in, those weaklings?”

“Don’t you have something better to do with your time than constantly hounding me about something?” Their complained.

Dis Connect shook his head sadly.

“You’d think they would learn and not hook up with singular antecedents,” Dis said.

“Well, it’s not entirely their fault,” Grammar Smith said. “Unlike many other languages, English doesn’t have a gender neutral, singular, third person pronoun. So, to avoid sounding sexist, many writers (and most speakers) put in the plural. This is likely when you see pronouns like anyone, someone, each, or somebody as the antecedent.”

In English, when the gender of the antecedent is unknown, the singular third person pronoun traditionally used is masculine:

Every student must make up his mind about things.

“Of course, that makes about half the population (like me) unhappy,” Grammar said.

One solution is to use both singular third person pronouns:

Every student must make up his or her mind about things.

“Very clumsy, and I especially detest the artificial s/he construction,” she continued.

“What about it?” Dis asked. “That’s a singular, gender neutral, third person pronoun.”

“That’s a funny thing,” Grammar replied. “You would think, with all the fluidity of the English language, that would be a logical choice. Then again, who said proper usage was always logical?”

It is only used when referring to things or animals, never people.

“Lots of people use they with singular antecedents, but it tends to get confusing,” Grammar said. “There are some people who think gender is not binary, so just he and she are not enough to reflect that.”

“I’ve heard some people use ze as a neutral pronoun,” Dis offered.

“Yes, that may be the wave of the future,” Grammar mused. “Or maybe people will just use it. No matter what, it looks like the rules are going to change.”

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