the person <him/herself <vs> themselves>

Discussion in 'English Only' started by yakor, Apr 10, 2013.

  1. yakor Senior Member

    Which word has to be applied after "person", if it is not known if it is "she" or "he"? ("a person" in common sense)
    A person him/herself or, maybe,themselves?
  2. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    A specific sentence would be nice, Yakor:rolleyes:
  3. e2efour Senior Member

    England (aged 74)
    UK English
    I doubt whether I could use any of your suggestions, but I find it difficult to comment without a sentence!
    The problem can often be easily avoided.
  4. yakor Senior Member

    Every person knows what he/she/their wants/want.
    A person her/him/themselves doesn't(don't) know what could happen with him/her/their in the next second.
    Any adult person could do it her/himself.
  5. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    As e2e4 said, there are usually ways of avoiding this 'problem':

    Everyone knows what they want.
    No-one knows what could happen to them in the next second.
    Any adult could do it*.

    The more informal the English, the more likely you are to hear/read things like:
    Any adult could do it for themselves.

    I would not recommend this in formal writing.
  6. yakor Senior Member

    You mean that "them" should be used for common case? "to them"="to one"="to a person"?
  7. yakor Senior Member

    But what do you recommend in formal writing? What should one write instead of "themselves"?
  8. e2efour Senior Member

    England (aged 74)
    UK English
    This (clumsy) sentence can be changed to Any adult could do it on their own or -- if you want to avoid the use of their (although I don't understand why) -- it is possible to write Any adult could do it without help. If I wanted to infuriate some members of this forum, I would recommend do it themself, but in most quarters this is regarded as substandard, and do it themselves is preferred.

    I'm not clear what Ewie is referring to in #5 -- perhaps it's the phrase do it for themselves.

    The use of they as a gender-neutral pronoun with words like anyone, person etc. is well-established. It came into use long before feminists started to use he (or even she) as a politically correct equivalent, which has its own problems.
    "One of my parents is in hospital with a broken leg."
    "I'm sorry to hear that. Was it your father or your mother who broke his leg?"
  9. yakor Senior Member

    But I meant "do it for themselves" not as "do it themselves". Why this sentence is clumsy?
    "I can draw a conclusion for myself, and everyone can do it for themself"
  10. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Themself is not generally accepted. (Here is an earlier thread, and you can find others by searching for "themself.") Yes, you can find it, but you will seldom find it in edited material. (I loathe it so deeply that it makes my skin crawl.)

    I should point out, though, that I am among those holdouts who still doesn't use they, them, their, etc., as singular gender-neutral pronouns. So in your sentence, I'd use himself, which has a long history as a gender-neutral pronoun, or if I only needed to do this once and if it could be done without any awkwardness, I'd write "him or herself." If I had to make several different gender-neutral references, I'd sometimes use himself and sometimes herself.

    But if you want to use themselves - and it is increasingly accepted by many if not by me and my fellow holdouts :) - it is themselves, not themself.
    Last edited: May 3, 2013
  11. e2efour Senior Member

    England (aged 74)
    UK English
    In post #8 I said that Any adult person could do it her/himself was clumsy. If you don't think it clumsy, try saying it aloud. It also looks odd in print.

    You have introduced for themselves (originally you wrote themselves). If it is thought that for themselves is awkward, you might write everyone can do it on their own. The phrase for themselves is separate from the use of they as a neutral gender pronoun.
  12. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    No, it was the combination of any adult [sing.] + themselves [pl.]. I wouldn't recommend it in formal writing because there are still plenty of people [Hullo, Kate:D] who object to it:)
  13. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    [Hello, Ewie!]

    More importantly, I think there are plenty of English instructors - such as those who grade exams and so on - who object to it. I'm basing this on the number of questions we get on this topic here on the WR forum.
  14. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    :thumbsup::thumbsup::thumbsup: from a fellow holdout! Just to let the world know we're still alive and kicking!

  15. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

  16. yakor Senior Member

    But what must one use in,"The person him/her/themseves knows what to do"?
  17. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Keep in mind that I have a strong aversion to themselves used as a singular pronoun, so what I'd write is either "People themselves know what to do" or, if it has to be singular (and sometimes it does), I'd write "The person himself knows what to do."

    Those who don't mind using themselves as a singular pronoun would (I think?) use it instead of himself: "The person themselves knows what to do."

    But as we've tried to tell you, this is something about which native speakers don't agree. If you don't know how the person who will read this feels about themselves or himself as singular gender-neutral pronouns, I would recommend making it plural.
  18. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    I'd be happy with either of Kate's two solutions; but in your particular sentence, yakor, I'd go for a third option: simply don't use any reflexive pronoun.

    Reflexives for emphasis are generally used to contrast a statement with other implicit (often more likely) possibilities:
    - "The President himself came to the celebration" (rather than sending a flunky)
    - "I made the cake myself" (rather than getting someone else to do it, or buying it from a shop)

    But I can't imagine a situation where anyone else could know something on another person's behalf, so I'd say that "The person knows what to do" says it fully, without the need for an emphatic reflexive.


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