Question about their

iamkion132

New Member
English United States
In a research writing course that I am taking right now, the subject about the use of their was brought up recently and has brought up questions about something that I have done for most of my writting in the past. For most of my life I have used their to refer to the possesion of an item when concerning an object in third person singular EX The child. I haved used their when refering to a generic animate object such as: A child's education is very important and in no way should their education be compromised. When I only want to refer to a living object such as a child, and I want it to remain "sexless", what would I do in place of their or am I doing the right thing?
 
  • Joelline

    Senior Member
    American English
    iamkion132 said:
    For most of my life I have used their to refer to the possesion of an item when concerning an object in third person singular EX The child. I haved used their when refering to a generic animate object such as: A child's education is very important and in no way should their education be compromised. When I only want to refer to a living object such as a child, and I want it to remain "sexless", what would I do in place of their or am I doing the right thing?
    In formal writing, you really shouldn't use "their" to refer to a singular antecedent. The easiest solution is simply to use plurals! The education of children is very important and should not be compromised.

    I know it's hard to break the "child...their" pattern, but you'll find that with practice it comes quite easily after a while!


    by the way, there's an excellent online grammar site that you can consult as well: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/pronouns.htm
     

    jimreilly

    Senior Member
    American English
    Iamkion, you are not alone in your use of "their" to avoid declaring/assuming someone's gender. For example, some people would say "The doctor's life is a hard one, and their families suffer, too." Obviously, their are other ways of saying this: "The doctor's life is a hard one, and the doctor's family suffers, too." "Doctors lives are hard, and their families suffer, too."

    For a while the "their" solution to the gender problem (i.e. avoiding "his" for doctor, because the doctor might very well be a woman) was quite popular, and was seen as a way of avoiding the seemingly awkward "his or her" phrase.

    The longer one practices being gender-inclusive in one's language the less awkward one becomes. There are usually clear and sometimes even elegant ways of not declaring or assuming someone's gender.
     

    Joelline

    Senior Member
    American English
    Not only are you not alone, but you're in excellent company. There's a fascinating diatribe about the use of "their" as a singular (with many, many quotation from the works of Jane Austen and others) at http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/austheir.html . Here's a little sample:

    "Singular "their" was an accepted part of the English language before the 18th-century grammarians started making arbitrary judgements as to what is "good English" and "bad English", based on a kind of pseudo-"logic" deduced from the Latin language, that has nothing whatever to do with English. And even after the old-line grammarians put it under their ban, this anathematized singular "their" construction never stopped being used by English-speakers, both orally and by serious literary writers."
     

    iamkion132

    New Member
    English United States
    About the website on Jane Austun. I read some of it and found the reading to be interesting. I am attempting to learn as much about this before going off to college. Thank you for the responses and will make sure that I use them in the future
     

    emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    There is a current lively thread entitled "Third Person Pronouns" on this topic. Sorry, I don't know how to insert a link. It's in the English Only Forum.
     
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