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How to use "he" "she" and "they" to sound more politically correct

Modern businesses nowadays are pushing for more inclusiveness in the workplace. Sexism and gender bias is completely unacceptable and there is a push to have more women and minorities in more senior roles within the organisation. 

Did you know that there is a simple little linguistic trick that you can use both in your oral and written communication to sound more politically correct?

Read on if you want to learn how to to this.

Some context

Gender neutral nouns

In some languages, such as Spanish, nouns have a gender. For example in Spanish, nouns that end in "a" are often feminine. So, the word "house", or "casa" is a feminine noun. Whereas the noun "car" or "coche" is a masculine noun. 

English does not have gender based nouns, a car is a thing and a house is a thing. We do differentiate gender for people. For example a boy is masculine and a girl is feminine. 

But, what do we do in English when we are referring to a singular noun with no gender, for example "a manager", "a child" or "an employee". 

All of the above examples are "people" in the singular form, and each one could be either masculine or feminine. 

So, what do we do if we need to use a gender neutral noun in a sentence? 

What we did in the past

Using "he"

Let me start by giving you an example. 

"When a manager provides feedback to staff, he can do it in a number of ways". 

As you can see, in the past we used to always use "he" and refer to a manager in the masculine sense. This is now considered to be politically incorrect. 

A new approach

Using "he" or "she"

We can try a new approach and just replace the "he" in the above example with "she".

"When a manager provides feedback to staff, she can do it in a number of ways".  

This also works, but then it could be perceived as gender biased towards women. 

To get around this, we can try the following approach. 

"When a manager provides feedback to staff, he or she can do it in a number of ways". 

By using both "he" or "she", we are being inclusive. This approach works great if we only have a short text or thing to say. 

The problem arises when we have to repeat "he", "she" continuously during discourse or on a written document. 

So, are there any other approached that can solve this problem? 

A more modern solution

Using "they" as a solution

We can adopt the following approach to solve the above mentioned problems. 

"When a manager provides feedback to staff, they can do it in a number of ways". 

This may sound strange to some people, I mean, how can we use a plural subject with a singular noun? Well, in English it works and it is the best solution. It does not sound strange to a native person. 

One more important thing to remember, is that the rule is also applied to object pronouns and possessive pronouns. 

Let me give you an example. 

"When a manager provides feedback to staff, he can do it in a number of ways". His first approach might be to...

"When a manager provides feedback to staff, she can do it in a number of ways". Her first approach might be to...

"When a manager provides feedback to staff, they can do it in a number of ways". Their first approach might be to...

As you can see in the above examples, we also using the possessive pronoun that matches the subject. 

Simple, right? 

Do you need help with your writing

Maybe you struggle to write clear, effective emails that transmit the correct message. 

Maybe you are not aware of how to write in a polite and more formal tone. 

If this sounds like you, then you should take a look at our course on "Excellence in email writing", this programme is designed to help you write more effective, clearly structured emails that clearly transmit exactly what you want to say. 

Register for the free sample course below and check out what the course has to offer. 

Final thoughts

I hope you loved this episode, please leave me your comments below. 

I'll see you all next week for another episode of The Art of Business English.

Take care. 

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Andrew


Andrew is the CEO and founder of the Art of Business English. Besides teaching and coaching native Spanish speakers in Business English, he is also passionate about mountain biking, sailing and healthy living. When He is not working, Andrew loves to spend time with his family and friends.

Andrew Ambrosius

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