let's fix the pronoun problem

Levi Pearson levi at cold.org
Mon May 26 10:38:42 MDT 2008

On Sun, May 25, 2008 at 10:20 PM, Merrill Oveson <moveson at gmail.com> wrote:
> > Using the third-person pronouns has wide acceptance and a
> > long history, and will soon be accepted even by stuffy prescriptivist
> > grammarians.
> So the sentence, "A student should put in long hours of study so they can
> master the subject."
> After years of being docked for this, I should now start to use it?

It was acceptable in the past, went through a phase of
unacceptability, and is returning to acceptability now.  English is a
living language, and you can expect things like this to happen.  It's
defined by common usage, not by some stuffy people in schools who
decide how things should be.  You may get tested by such stuffy
people, but that doesn't mean that they're correct outside of their
classrooms on tricky matters like this.  I'm sorry you had such
poorly-informed teachers.

If you're writing for publication, the publisher will probably have a
style guide that you'll have to adhere to for that particular work.
That guide will probably specify how they'd like you to deal with this
pronoun issue.  That being said, it's a *style* issue, not a *grammar*

> > Here's Cecil Adams' take on it:
> > http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a3_245b.html
> Do you have a link to his paper on it?

I take it that this is a jab at Cecil Adams' lack of authority on the
subject.  Well, then, here's a link to Language Log, which is written
by a bunch of published academic linguists:

They've written over and over again about this particular issue, as
the links in that post show.  The post I linked to is actually on a
SAT question where the author disagrees with the test writer on the
subject, at least to some degree.

> I'd like to go back to:
> "A student should put in long hours of study so he can master the subject."
> The "he" meaning he or she.

That's definitely not coming back any time soon, as it's blatantly sexist.

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