Saturday, June 14, 2008

Powerful Points from “Style”, Part 3

The nonsexist general pronoun he or she causes all kinds of awkward problems. Joseph M. Williams agrees in Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. On page 35, he writes:

If we reject he as a generic pronoun because it is sexist and they because careful readers consider it ungrammatical, we are left with either a clumsily intrusive he or she, a substantially worse he/she, or the worst s/he.

Obviously, the grammar gods who decided that he or she would work as a rule flinched when they realized that the following sentence would be considered grammatically correct:

Any employee who does not have his or her handbook should ask his or her manager to get one for him or her because he or she will find answers to most questions about responsibilities and benefits he or she may have.

We can eliminate this problem by not using the general pronoun, choosing plurals, and finding ways around using any pronoun altogether:

Employees who do not have the handbook should ask their manager to get one because it answers most questions responsibilities and benefits.

Besides eliminating the awkwardness of the original, the second draft reduces the word count from 41 to 21.

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