He or she, or they?
Frequently we come across sentences referring to a single subject in the first clause, and "they" in the second. This is politically correct and grammatically accepted and recomended, see Oxford Dictionary explanation below:
‘He or she’ versus ‘they’
It’s often important to use language which implicitly or explicitly includes both men and women, making no distinction between the genders. This can be tricky when it comes to pronouns. In English, a person's gender is explicit in the third person singular pronouns (i.e., he, she, his, hers, etc.). There are no personal pronouns that can refer to someone (as opposed to something) without identifying whether that person is male or female. So, what should you do in sentences such as these?
If your child is thinking about a gap year, ? can get good advice from this website.
A researcher has to be completely objective in ? findings.
In the past, people tended to use the pronouns he, his, him, or himself in situations like this:
If your child is thinking about a gap year, he can get good advice from this website.
A researcher has to be completely objective in his findings.
Today, this approach is seen as outdated and sexist. There are other options which allow you to arrive at a ‘gender-neutral’ solution, as follows: •You can use the wording ‘he or she’, ‘his or her’, etc.:
If your child is thinking about a gap year, he or she can get good advice from this website.
A researcher has to be completely objective in his or her findings.
This can work well, as long as you don’t have to keep repeating ‘he or she’, ‘his or her’, etc. throughout a piece of writing. •You can make the relevant noun plural, rewording the sentence as necessary:
If your children are thinking about a gap year, they can get good advice from this website.
Researchers have to be completely objective in their findings.
This approach can be a good solution, but it won’t always be possible. •You can use the plural pronouns ‘they’, ‘them’, ‘their’ etc., despite the fact that, technically, they are referring back to a singular noun:
If your child is thinking about a gap year, they can get good advice from this website.
A researcher has to be completely objective in their findings.
Some people object to the use of plural pronouns in this type of situation on the grounds that it’s ungrammatical. In fact, the use of plural pronouns to refer back to a singular subject isn’t new: it represents a revival of a practice dating from the 16th century. It’s increasingly common in current English and is now widely accepted both in speech and in writing.
You can read more about the debate surrounding the use of ‘he or she’ versus ‘they’ on the Oxford Dictionaries blog.
I think the large-scale acceptance of using the word "they" singularly is a corruption of the language but it is probably going to happen with or without my approval. After all, progress forward is not always progress in a direction that every individual like or finds comfortable, and language, over the course of centuries, blossoms like a flower.
The word "you" underwent a similar transformation. The words "thou" and "you" used to have a similar relationship to the European Spanish "tu" and "usted" (and possibly the European Portuguese "tu" and "você" but I am not as familiar with European Portuguese as I am with European Spanish) with "ye" being the English second person plural, but today both thou and ye have fallen out of use (today only encountered in the Bible or Shakespeare) and the word you became the second person pronoun across the board. Being from Texas, I like to use the word "y'all" for a second person plural pronoun and even use it in more formal writing where I otherwise avoid such vernacular.
Some interesting excerpts from an LA Times opinion piece:
...the genderless pronoun had arrived.
"Returned" might be a better way to put it. Before the mid-18th century, English writers and speakers universally referred back to an indefinite antecedent ("everyone," "anyone," "a person") with the pronouns "they," "their" or "them." This was understandable because all singular personal pronouns are gender specific. And so, Shakespeare: "God send everyone their heart's desire." The King James Bible: "In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves." Henry Fielding: "Every Body fell a laughing, as how could they help it?"
From the late 1700s through the early 1900s, much grammatical rule making took place in England and the United States, and the rule makers were offended by the use of otherwise plural pronouns to stand in for singular nouns. Their collective wisdom determined that the appropriate pronoun in all such cases should be masculine generic -- that is, "he," "him" and "his." The usage is grammatically unimpeachable but, in excluding females, is not only politically but factually incorrect, leading to the publication of sentences such as, "Man, being a mammal, breast-feeds his young."