She-or-he and her-or-his are clumsy constructions. Can you escape them? The English tutor has looked it up to be sure….
Most writers face the situation commonly:
Leaving the shelter of the train, everyone put on ______ hat.
“Everyone” is, of course, singular. If you knew the people were all women, you would love to say
Leaving the shelter of the train, everyone put on her hat.
What if the group is mixed – as usually it would be?
Leaving the shelter of the train, everyone put on her or his hat.
In today’s times, using “her or his” is the proper way. Grammarwise, it’s correct because her or his, being singular, agrees with everyone. Politically it’s correct, being gender-inclusive. However, it complicates the sentence.
A common solution to the dilemma:
Leaving the shelter of the train, everyone put on their hats.
Can you actually get away with using their – which is plural – to refer to everyone, which is singular? The answer depends on your context: formal writing won’t let you. However, informal writing permits it.
In a world that seems increasingly informal, formal writing still has some strongholds. An English professor likely won’t let you get away with using their in the situation we are discussing.
Here are some possible fixes that make formal writing a little more graceful:
Leaving the shelter of the train, everyone put on her/his hat.
Everybody realizes she/he needs to retrain.
Everybody realizes s/he needs to retrain.
Ask your professor what s/he will accept. Remember: when in doubt, go formal:)
Source: McGraw-Hill Handbook of English, Fourth Canadian Edition, 1986.
Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.