Have you been sweating it out in the gym for your â€œnew physical me?â€ Or have you been exclusively shopping in the produce aisle for your â€œnew healthy-eater me?â€ Or maybe youâ€™ve been going to bed a little bit earlier and you are working on being a â€œnew better-rested me.â€ Whatever your â€œNew Year, New Meâ€ resolutions are, I hope youâ€™re incorporating a â€œnew better-writer me.â€
Speaking of the word â€œmeâ€ reminds me that pronouns can be a prickly problem. Language is continuously changing, as is our openness for people of all genders, and this is a good thing. But what does this mean for you as a writer?
Well, I consulted the fiery feminists, and social justice warriors on the Writing Centre staff and on campus. Hereâ€™s the deal with pronoun use in writing:
He or She; Him or Her; His or Hers
- â€œHe or sheâ€ has traditionally been used when the word it refers to (called an antecedent) is singular. Unless, of course, the writer is referring to a specific person, and knows the pronoun of that the person.
- Hereâ€™s where things get interesting, and why Iâ€™m in this business in the first place. In the past, â€œthey/their/themâ€ has only been used when referring to more than one person.
- However, now that perceptions and realities of gender are changing, â€œthey/their/themâ€ is considered a more inclusive way to refer to a singular person. I donâ€™t want to make this personal, but look at me. For years, Iâ€™ve been Gary, even though Iâ€™m a pencil. Itâ€™s been confusing, to say the least. I donâ€™t know what the parents were thinking. Obviously, they werenâ€™t thinking. I need to regroup. I need a new me. I need â€¦ a new pronoun â€¦ or maybe no pronoun at all??
But I digress. This column is about you and your relationship with pronouns, so letâ€™s take a look at the following examples, and see how all of this works:
Using a singular pronoun for a singular antecedent:
â€œA student left his or her backpack on the bus. Poor him or her!â€
Using a plural pronoun for a plural antecedent:
â€œSome students left their backpacks on the bus. Poor them!â€
Using a specific singular pronoun when the gender reference is known:
â€œSarah left her backpack on the bus. Poor her!â€
Using a plural pronoun when the gender reference is known, or when the gender is unknown, or simply to be inclusive and respectful:
â€œSarah left their backpack on the bus. Poor them!â€
â€œA student left their backpack on the bus. Poor them!â€
So there you have it. Sure, the hard-core grammarians might be slow to accept such changes, but I mean, hey, we are the new generation! We get to make changes to our language.