The Third-Person Singular Pronoun Mystery: Do You Write One, He, She, They, or He/She, or S/He?

The Third-Person Singular Pronoun Mystery: Do You Write One, He, She, They, or He/She, or S/He? – In your reading, you will run into all of these pronouns used to refer to a single person in an example. Read these and think about how they are different from one another:

  • When a person walks down the street, she often thinks about what type of shoes she’s wearing
  • When a person walks down the street, he often thinks about what type of shoes he’s wearing
  • When a person walks down the street, they often think about what type of shoes they’re wearing
  • When a person walks down the street, one often thinks about what type of shoes one’s wearing
  • When a person walks down the street, he/she often thinks about what type of shoes he/she’s wearing

The correct choice is… There is no final, objectively correct choice. Experts disagree. But here’s their general feeling:

  • One is archaic; don’t use it
  • Using he or she all the time sounds great but can make a writer appear biased towards either men or women. Still, this is probably the best option, when you have to pick one singular pronoun. Stick with either he or she for your whole essay (not both)
  • They and he/she are both confusing. They is wrong (it’s a plural noun; you’re only talking about one person). If you use they, you will probably not lose any readers, but you will not sound as elegant and emphatic as you will if you use either he or she consistently. And he/she is just… oogly

That all said, the best way to avoid this difficult choice is to make all your third person pronouns plural:

  • When people walk down the street, they often think about what type of shoes they’re wearing

Notice the verb change. A truly plural they is often the best option. Use it. Love it. Other teachers may disagree with my assessment of the tricky point of grammar… But they’re wrong.

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