Is the word they used correctly in the first sentence. Should I reword the sentence?

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Is it correct to use the word person, when referring to the person using the plural pronoun they?

 

A person came out of the house. They called to the dog by the name of Molly to come inside.

 

Should this sentence be changed, or reworded to:

 

A person came out of the house. The person called to the dog named Molly to come inside.

 

Or:

 A boy came out of the house. He called to the dog named Molly to come inside

 

I am hoping the first sentence is correct, or acceptable.  If the person telling the story saw a person and could not tell if the person was male or female, I think the  person might say it the way it is worded in the first sentence Let me know what is correct..

asked Mar 06 '11 at 20:32 Shari New member

1 answer


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"If the person telling the story saw a person and could not tell if the person was male or female, I think the  person might say it the way it is worded in the first sentence."

What you are doing in that sentence is attempting to use the plural pronoun "they" as a gender-neutral singular pronoun. This is incorrect. Yes, a storyteller using casual spoken language might say "they," but, again-- incorrect. Even if the storyteller doesn't know whether the person is male or female, the storyteller should assume a gender and use the pronoun of that gender (usually male is assumed by default). When the character becomes more defined, the storyteller may then change the gender and pronoun.

 

These are all correct versions of the sentence:

"A person came out of the house. The person called to the dog named Molly to come inside."

"A person came out of the house and called to the dog named Molly to come inside."

"A person came out of the house. He called to the dog named Molly to come inside."

"A person came out of the house. She called to the dog named Molly to come inside."

"A person came out of the house. He or she called to the dog named Molly to come inside."

 

The real problem here is that the English language lacks a proper gender-neutral singular pronoun. "He" was historically used, but this is now seen as sexist. Some feminist writers may, in opposition, use "she" as their default pronoun. "He or she" is now preferred in formal writing. Various people in queer communities, particularly transgender people, are attempting to come up with a true gender-neutral pronoun, though one has not been established; I have seen "zhi/zhe/shi" and "vee" proposed.

 

tl;dr:

A storyteller should assume a gender and use the corresponding pronoun.

A writer using formal language must use "he," "she," or "he or she."

Writers or speakers in other circumstances, including storytellers, may propose their own gender-neutral pronouns.

Never use "they" as a gender-neutral singular pronoun.

link comment answered Mar 07 '11 at 04:49 Collane Ramsey Expert

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