When we meet a member of that other tribe, let’s give him a party.He certainly would not make a grammatical mistake and use the plural pronoun them to refer to the singular word member.
When we meet a neighbor from that new development, let’s give them a party.Why do we say that? Because we don’t want to be like Igor and just use he all the time. We want to avoid that cumbersome he-she, his-her, him-her or that tongue-twisting he or she, his or her, him or her, and so on. So we settle for:
When a policy holder comes to me for service, I want to make sure they get the personal attention they deserve. —State Farm Insurance TV AdvertisementPolicy holder is singular. They is plural. Under traditional rules of grammar, the two don’t match.
In many cases a mere possessor of land may be treated as if he were the owner for the purpose of awarding a particular form of legal or equitable relief. Roger A. Cunningham, The Law of Property, p. 10 (1984).Others took an inclusive approach and used both:
In a competency proceeding, a judge is asked to appoint a conservator to manage the property of a person who is no longer competent to manage it for him or herself. [This should probably read himself or herself. Or perhaps him‑ or herself.] Paul Berman & Michael Asimow, Reel Justice, p. 102 (1996).Ridiculous Solutions
If a paragraph has a singular, generic antecedent, use the masculine. Then in the next paragraph having a singular, generic antecedent, switch to the feminine. Then to the masculine. Then to the feminine.This is a most unsatisfactory experience for the reader, I would imagine, despite the fairness achieved: She gets used to one pronoun, and then the writer switches on him.
Likewise distracting is a writer who tells us how to be courteous to the blind: Speak when you enter a blind person’s room . . . . Only then take her hand if she offers it to you. Let her know if you are leaving . . . . When showing a blind person to a chair, place his hand on the back. He will seat himself . . . . When changing a blind person’s money, let her know what each bill is. Follett, p. 33.Read the next topic for a proposed solution to the problem of sexist writing.