He, She or They — the Conundrum
Gender has become a hot-button issue for some people, and I certainly don’t intend to address it here. My focus is much more benign — correctly using he, she and they in your content. I’m aware major style guides have greenlighted the use of they as a singular for transgender people, but my commentary will be limited to the traditional uses of these pronouns.
Here are a few things I would caution against:
- Using he/she, s/he, he or she, him/her, etc. Any of these is going to be awkward.
- Using he or she exclusively. In the old days, he was the fallback, and while I don’t have an issue with that, many women consider it sexist.
- Switching between he and she in a document. This is clunky, not to mention quite confusing.
Please note these recommendations are meant for situations where you’re not referring to a specific person. After the first reference, to Jenna DeGrandis or Gabe DeGrandis, for instance, it’s perfectly fine to refer to them as she and he, respectively.
When you find yourself veering toward a pronoun issue, the best way to work around it is usually to make the noun plural. I can come up with a handful of wrongs for the following sentence, but I’ll stop at two:
Wrong: After an employee is hired, he will be assigned a mentor.
Wrong: After an employee is hired, he/she will be assigned a mentor.
The right is really quite simple:
Right: After employees are hired, they will be assigned mentors.
In most cases, this workaround — going plural instead of singular — will solve your pronoun dilemma. When you use clients instead of client, prospects instead of prospect, etc., you’ll bypass any awkwardness and can stick to using they.
Of course, since we’re talking about the English language, there are some exceptions. The American Heritage College Dictionary recommends using he or she and him or her in formal documents, as in this example:
When you learn who will be in charge of the project, tell him or her to see me right away.
As I previously noted, this issue is evolving, but for business purposes, you can never go wrong by simply following the established rules of grammar.
Throughout my career, I’ve been asked plenty of times why I believe I can write about almost anything. My answer usually comes down to the fact that I’m a quick study and there’s significant value to engaging an intelligent “outsider” rather than relying on an “insider” with poor writing skills.
This was proven in spades after I wrote my first MLS listing for a Realtor friend, who received the following praise from a colleague with 37 years of experience: “Your MLS remark section was one of the best I’ve ever seen. It read like a nice book and kept the reader wanting to finish reading all the way down to the supplemental part.”
While they contain the same letters arranged in the same order, everyday and every day aren’t interchangeable. I’ve been seeing quite a bit of every day/everyday misuse, so here’s a tip to help you figure out when to use each one: If you can replace it with each day, every day is correct. If not, it’s everyday.
Thus: Every day, I find more and more reasons to stop and smell the roses — enjoying the everyday beauty that surrounds those of us who are lucky enough to live in Southern California.