Read Books By AWers!

Welcome to the AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler! Please read The Newbie Guide To Absolute Write

editing for authors ad

A publisher or agency using Google ads to solicit your novel probably isn't anyone you want to write for.


Go Back   Absolute Write Water Cooler > Discussion > Grammar and Syntax
Register FAQ Calendar Mark Forums Read

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 08-12-2009, 07:53 PM   #1
Suse
wants mutant powers
 
Suse's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 599
Suse has earned our admirationSuse has earned our admirationSuse has earned our admirationSuse has earned our admiration
His or her versus their

Does anyone have an opinion on the use of 'their' versus 'his or her'? I know you should use 'their' with plural verbs, 'his or her' with singular, but what about those times when using 'his or her' is clunky, when using 'his' on its own is glaringly incorrect (because you are referring to a mixed crowd)? What do you think about substituting 'their' in fiction, where the writing is somewhere between formal and informal?

This is my sentence, referring to a gathering of men and women:
Each participant approached the water bearer to have their/his or her hands rinsed.
__________________

Suse is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-12-2009, 08:44 PM   #2
Chase
AW benefactor & vice versa
 
Chase's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Albany, Oregon
Posts: 4,617
Chase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate compliments
Quote:
Originally Posted by Suse View Post
This is my sentence, referring to a gathering of men and women: Each participant approached the water bearer to have their/his or her hands rinsed.
His or her does get cluncky and repetitive, but that isn't a good excuse for the lazy and often confusing use of plural pronouns for singular antecedents.

The easiest fix is to go all plural:

Men and women approached the water bearer to have their hands rinsed.

One by one, participants approached the water bearer to have their hands rinsed.

When it absolutely, positively has to be singular, rewrite:

Each participant approached the water bearer to have hands rinsed.
Chase is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-12-2009, 09:28 PM   #3
Suse
wants mutant powers
 
Suse's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 599
Suse has earned our admirationSuse has earned our admirationSuse has earned our admirationSuse has earned our admiration
Thanks, Chase. 'One by one...' I'll have that! That's a nice fix and it makes it clearer that the participants don't swarm forward in a mass.
__________________

Suse is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-12-2009, 09:37 PM   #4
Juliette Wade
Interprets for aliens
 
Juliette Wade's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: California
Posts: 471
Juliette Wade has a spectacular aura
I agree. All I would add is that while in writing, it's good to keep these things ironed out, in a character voice you might be able to stretch the boundaries a bit, depending on the character's usage of English grammar.
__________________
Juliette Wade
"You're a linguist - talk to them!" (Stargate)
My author site: http://juliettewade.com
My blog about language and culture in SF/F: http://talktoyouniverse.blogspot.com
Juliette Wade is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-12-2009, 10:40 PM   #5
Chase
AW benefactor & vice versa
 
Chase's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Albany, Oregon
Posts: 4,617
Chase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsChase is so great that we've run out of appropriate compliments
Quote:
Originally Posted by Juliette Wade View Post
All I would add is that while in writing, it's good to keep these things ironed out, in a character voice you might be able to stretch the boundaries a bit, depending on the character's usage of English grammar.
For sure, JW. Dialog should reflect the character, and many of us say quirky things. I saw this reference to a puppy said last week: "See? She's mine. A child always knows their own mother."

Wouldn't dare change authentic dialog.
Chase is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-13-2009, 11:17 AM   #6
Dawnstorm
punny user title, here
 
Join Date: May 2007
Location: Austria
Posts: 2,344
Dawnstorm should run for PresidentDawnstorm should run for PresidentDawnstorm should run for PresidentDawnstorm should run for PresidentDawnstorm should run for PresidentDawnstorm should run for President
It's a rather complex topic.

"Everyone approached the water bearer to have their hands rinsed," is somewhat more acceptable than "Each participant...." But both usages have their proponents.

"Each participant approached the water bearer to have his hands rinsed," is not incorrect, either. Using "he" for mixed groups is a well-established practice, though it's fallen from grace a bit lately.

The following is pretty much unacceptable (though I've seen it used and defendend, too): "A participant approached the water bearer to have their hands rinsed." Singular their is usually not used when you're referring to one particular person.

If, however, you use "a participant" in an abstract manner referring to a hypothetical rather than to a historical real person, you will find more people who accept this (including me, for one, even though I don't think I would use it myself): "A participant would have to approach the water bearer to have their hands rinsed."

Here's a good place to start an investigation on "singular they" if you're interested enough. Be sure to check out the excerpt from Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct on that page.

Last edited by Dawnstorm; 08-13-2009 at 11:19 AM.
Dawnstorm is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 08-13-2009, 01:43 PM   #7
pdr
Banned
 
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Home - but for how long?
Posts: 4,260
pdr is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentspdr is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentspdr is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentspdr is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentspdr is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentspdr is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentspdr is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentspdr is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentspdr is so great that we've run out of appropriate compliments
Now if...

everyone used hir and s/he there wouldn't be a problem.
pdr is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

Custom Search

If this site is helpful to you,
Please consider a voluntary subscription to defray ongoing expenses.

Buy Scrivener 2 for Mac OS X (Regular Licence)


All times are GMT +4.5. The time now is 11:14 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.5
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.