Friday, March 16, 2007

#33: Eliminate the Dreadful 'his/her' from Your Grant Narrative



Don't you just hate to write sentences like "The most improved student will present a portfolio of his/her work?"


But, I'm a feminist. Gender neutrality matters. So, try out these techniques.
  • Convert those sentences to the plural, if that will work
  • Avoid the pronoun altogether -- "The most improved student will present a portfolio of work."
  • Use the singular "their" -- "The most improved student will present a portfolio of their work."
I only recently read about the singular 'their' and intend to use it more often.
Yes, generally singular nouns take singular pronouns. But as you aptly note, 'his/her' is awkward and using only 'his' skews the meaning of a sentence. Using 'their' as a singular, inclusive pronoun has historical precedent and promotes the meaning better than those choices.

This choice has historical legitimacy, is acceptable for all informal writing and — if used consistently — for formal writing as well (though some will raise their eyebrows).

Sources: Professional Training Company: Communication Strategies for Scientists and Engineers and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd edition. NY:Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992

Photo by
Henrik Ahlen

5 comments:

T L Reynolds said...

I had no idea that there was a singular 'their'. This is really valuable information.

Thanks for visiting Write Stuff. I'm bookmarking this site.

Marcia said...

I wrote the singular their the other day, thought it was wrong and restructured my sentence. . . I'm bookmarking this site as well. Found you through your comment on Write Stuff.

Dan Hamilton said...

Hello to all you dedicated grant writers! I am a director for a grant writing and advising firm in Emeryville, CA and thought that I would let you know of our new Grant Search and Management Tool www.randalocator.com

We update it every day with new Federal, State and Foundation grant summaries as they are released. Not all the info is free but you can at least find and read the program descriptions for each grant in a basic summary format.

Keep up the good work!

Dan Hamilton

Ruth Ann said...

You will never convince me of the legitimacy of a "singular their!" Call me a purist if you want, but this subject did more than raise my eyebrows!

Ruth Wahtera said...

We certainly need purists. You keep us from getting too sloppy. However, over time rules change and I think this is a rule that's changing.

I think twice, though, about the agency that's receiving the grant -- what does their style seem to be? After all, my job is to convince the reviewers. I don't want to detract from that.