disjunctive question [isn’t he/she?]

Discussion in 'English Only' started by ediskvaka, Mar 12, 2011.

  1. ediskvaka Senior Member

    What gender does a tutor have to use it in a disjunctive question?
    For example, A tutor is responsible for the student's progress, isn’t he/she?
  2. fero45 Junior Member

    ...are they?
  3. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    I agree with fero45. A tag question with alternative pronouns is exceedingly awkward, and, I think, must be avoided. Oxford Dictionaries have this to say about the use of they as a singular pronoun:

    Some people object to the use of plural pronouns in this type of situation on the grounds that it’s ungrammatical. In fact, the use of plural pronouns to refer back to a singular subject isn’t new: it represents a revival of a practice dating from the 16th century. It’s increasingly common in current English and is now widely accepted both in speech and in writing.

    I see the point, of course, that it is, on the face of it, ungrammatical to use a plural pronoun to represent the singular (however, the pronoun you was originally plural only), but as with objections to the split infinitive, observing a rule can result in English that is even worse than in breaking it. As George Orwell said about the rules he gave for writing: "Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous".
  4. fero45 Junior Member

    I like Mole's explanation and I like their music.
    He or she? In French and some slavonic languages I know you find HE as the GENERAL GENDER. Also in older English. The explosion of feminist activities resulted in substituting THEY for HE. (?? manhole, personhole) :)
  5. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    There is no way to make this sentence acceptable with a singular tutor unless you presume male (isn't he) or female (isn't she).

    Nor can you sensibly use they because you couldn't possibly write "isn't they" and "aren't they" still sounds somewhat bizarre (to me) following a very singular subject and main verb.
    A tutor is responsible for the student's progress, are they? :cross:
    The question has the wrong form.
    A tutor is responsible for the student's progress, isn’t they? :cross:
    A tutor is responsible for the student's progress, aren't they? :confused:

    The escape is simple, of course.
    Tutors are responsible for the students' progress, aren't they?

    (If you want to talk about gender neutral third person singular pronouns, there are plenty of threads listed at gender neutral :))
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2011

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