Fighting For Everyday Speech!

woyI’ve been talking a lot lately about the looming civil war between the King and Queen of the Fairies because it’s the focus of my latest book – Fighting Mad.

Imagine my shock when I got back to school after the holidays and found another conflict unleashed! The American Dialect Society has named ‘they’ as the word of the year – as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun!

Okay, for those of you who are not grammar nerds, this means “Everyone wants their cat to succeed” is now correct instead of ““Everyone wants his or her cat to succeed.” The change is in recognition of changing usage over time, probably spurred on in part by a growing awareness of the fluid nature of sexuality and gender identification.

insteadoflookNow, as a teacher, I’m in a quandary. We’re waiting for the Library Association to weigh in before changing grades. As a writer, it’s a bit of a relief. It’s awkward to describe something that could apply to anyone without using a possessive pronoun, so it’s nice not to have to use two.

But as a writer, I also recognize the importance of being able to write around an awkward scene, to change up wording until I get something that works. I stumbled across this handy cheat sheet for one of my biggest challenges – how to describe a simple action that happens over and over, a simple gesture that conveys so much – without sounding like a parrot! Many thanks to the person or persons who created it!

Where do you stand on the issue of possessive pronouns? Do you think it’s okay to use the singular, formerly plural, ‘their’ instead of ‘his or her’ and why?

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2 thoughts on “Fighting For Everyday Speech!

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  1. I think in dialog it was always okay, to express how people talk, colloquially. But I don’t think I like saying it is okay elsewhere too, to be honest. Next it will be okay to write what people say mistakenly all the time, everywhere, and that is just silly. For example: The plural “There are” and “There’re” is being pushed out by the singular “There is” and “There’s”, but that doesn’t mean it is correct to to something like “There’s ten cats outside.” If one wouldn’t say “There is ten cats outside.” which I hope no one would really say and think it is correct, then why would “There’s ten cats outside.” be correct? It is a colloquialism, not correct English. Okay for dialog, but not for anything else.

    1. Hi Cecila,

      It is a slippery slope and one I have to caution students on all the time. ‘But that’s how I talk’ is not always clear communication when it’s just words on paper!

      But the language evolves. What will we say / write in 20 years time?!

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