Grammatical Over-Correction #2

This one is not so much an over-correction as it is grammar meets political correctness.

Hear ye, hear ye, one and all!  The English language does not have a gender neutral singular personal pronoun that is used for human beings.  That, unfortunately (I guess?), means that you have to PICK a gender and not assign a gender neutral plural personal pronoun in it’s place when you need to, well, use a pronoun.  Today’s example from the radio:

Please help a student who is trying to better themselves.

Listen up, folks. Language is not science and it doesn’t always keep pace with political correctness. “A STUDENT” is singular. If you are going to follow this antecedent with a personal pronoun, it must agree in gender and number with the noun. What’s the gender of “a student”, you ask? PICK one!! Imagine the student you are speaking of and give HER a gender. See. I imagined a girl and therefore the pronoun to refer to my student is her (or she, hers or herself depending on what I’m saying about HER.)

The sentence I heard this morning was a PSA. Someone had to approve that!! Do better, people. Will ya?

Would I love to just refer to some people as “it”? Of course I would, and I think it would be fitting. However, English as we know it today does not permit that. Change it if you like. Let’s start a ” Use ‘it’ for people” revolution. But, until it catches on, please make sure your pronouns agree with their antecedents in gender and number.

Thank you kindly.



8 thoughts on “Grammatical Over-Correction #2

  1. Yes, the it revolution.

    Or they could have done the himself/herself thingy. When I edit papers, this always happens. “The patient found themselves…” It irritates the crap out of me.

  2. I suspect it’s not to avoid sexism but because people think that the genderless form is correct. They’re not giving thought to number.

    I’m a reading a book of which you’d approve. In There Are No Shortcuts, Rafe Esquith writes: May you always get up. It is a child ringing the bell, and he needs your help. p. x Once a child leaves your classroom, she is bombarded by powerful distractions that will keep her from pursuing excellence. p. 41

  3. Thank you for pointing this one out too. Like Debbie, I sometimes lean toward using the him/her option. Let the reader choose, if I don’t want to. But by God, someone had better choose!

  4. English does have a common-gender, common-number pronoun.

    And every one to rest themselves betake – Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece, 1594

    ‘Tis meet that some more audience than a mother, Since nature makes them partial, should o’erhear The speech – Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1601

    Nobody here seems to look into an Author, ancient or modern, if they can avoid it – Lord Byron, letter, 12 Nov 1805

    I would have everybody marry if they can do it properly – Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, 1814

    A person can’t help their birth – WM Thackeray, Vanity Fair, 1848

    …every fool can do as they’re bid – Jonathan Swift, Polite Conversation, 1738

    And whoso fyndeth hym out of swich blame, They wol come up – Chaucer, The Pardoner’s Prologue, 1395

  5. Yeah right…I used ‘it’ referring to a certain child who shall not be named and the father to that precious nameless child blew a fuse. I am fine with ‘it’ but I think most of the world would freak.

  6. So, what I have always used is ‘Please help a student who is trying to better themself.’ This predates gender neutral political correctness, but I am sure that the singular they is not used everywhere. The Wikipedia article ‘Singular they’ is very interesting.

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