Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

He, him, she, her, they, their, and them: such simple words, which can give writers a large problem. When an author’s fingers are flying across the keyboard he doesn’t always stop to make sure that the pronouns used are a match. The misuse of pronouns is such a common occurrence that many readers don’t recognize the author’s mistake. I speak from experience.

He, him, she, and her are singular forms. They, their, and them are plural forms. The truth is, most people recognize this fact. However, when writing, authors are prone to structure a sentence like this: A student (note: one student) should always turn in their (more than one student) homework.

This example should be easy enough to correct: A student should always turn in his homework.

Now, though, another problem has been created for readers who feel that the use of a masculine pronoun is sexist. A is an indefinite article. In this case, “a student” can refer to every student (whether male or female) because every student should turn in his or her homework. At this point, the author is slapping his forehead and saying, “You’ve got to be kidding. I have to use both he and she in every sentence with that structure?”

No. A better solution exists: Students (more than one/gender neutral) should turn in their (plural/gender neutral) homework.

Non-fiction authors have a problem keeping the gender neutrality throughout their work. Even in the writing of this blog, I have run across the problem. Making the “sexist” proponents happy is a very laborious task. My thoughts about keeping such readers content is stated above: "You've got to be kidding." And I add: "Get over yourself."

My solution: I’d rather offend someone by forgetting about the neutrality than I would want to offend a readership who will very quickly grow tired of the continual use of “he and she” in every sentence. I also want to remain grammatically correct, so I refuse to concede.

The best solution for this dilemma is for an author to state that for simplicity’s sake, the masculine or the feminine form of the pronouns will be used and that said form is meant to be inclusive of both genders.

However, an author should always be diligent in their self-edits and look for conflicting pronouns. They should keep an eye out for their mistakes.

Oops, let me rephrase that: An author should always be diligent in his self-edits and look for conflicting pronouns. He should keep an eye out for his mistakes.

Happy editing,


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