Parts of Speech: For people of unknown sex

June 18, 2009: Issue 294

New media bring up an interesting pronoun issue: How do we refer to readers when we don’t know their sex?

example:
DaffodilLover99 sent us these beautiful photos from _____ garden in Roca, Nebraska.

What possessive pronoun do you use?

Their is tempting, but it’s grammatically incorrect. (Their must refer to a plural or compound noun.)

His/her is grammatically acceptable but hardly conversational.

Our suggestion is to recast and avoid the issue:
DaffodilLover99 of Roca, Nebraska, sent us these beautiful garden photos.

Remember, we still identify readers by full name and city in our print products. But we realize that standards and expectations are different in the Web world. There, a screen name will suffice.

Speaking of new media: Are you our fan on Facebook yet? Once you are, be sure to check out the CE rap from our annual conference.

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