Section 5.3

His or Hers?

One of the most frustrating grammatical challenges in English is figuring out how to avoid awkward gender-neutral phrases such as him or her and his or her. Consider this example:

Each employee should bring his or her laptop.

The sentence is grammatical, but it will not win any prizes for elegance.

Unfortunately, the following, more streamlined alternative violates a fundamental grammatical principle: a pronoun and its antecedent must both be singular or both be plural.

Incorrect

Each employee should bring their laptop.

The plural pronoun their has as its antecedent the singular noun employee — a mismatch.

Since most workforces include both men and women, one can’t simply delete either his or her for the sake of simplicity. The good news is that there is often (though not always) a simple solution to this type of problem. Possible revisions here include:

Correct

Each employee should bring a laptop.

All employees should bring their laptops.

Please bring a laptop.

The same hisher problem arises frequently when the subject of the sentence is everyone, as in:

Everyone should bring his or her warmest clothing.

The sentence is correct, but awkward. Unfortunately, everyone is singular, so it would be incorrect to change his or her to their. Depending on the context and style of a document, however, there are ways to rewrite this sentence:

Attendees should bring their warmest clothing.

Bring your warmest clothing.

As you can see, solving the his or her dilemma is often an exercise in creativity.