How I Use Pronouns on My Blog

From time to time, I receive objections to the pronouns I use on the blog. I decided to take a moment to explain my rationale and educate those who object.

Traditional English grammar dictates that the mixed group (both males and females) has the same (morphological) form as the male one. Therefore, if the subject could be a boy or girl, the subject can, from a grammatical point of view, be referred to as “he.” Proper, traditional English doesn’t have a truly gender-neutral pronoun. The exception is if we use “it” which would be very rude and inaccurate unless we are actually referring to an object.

Regardless of political agenda or social justice warriors, this is a long established grammatical rule. It is considered formal English. I recognize that it is currently being debated in the USA, but the debate doesn’t negate the tradition or the existence of the grammar rule. In more recent history, there is push to use “they” which is actually a plural form or “he or she” which is, honestly, often cumbersome.

From a practical point, using “they” or “he or she” often makes for awkward sentences or article titles. I do use them occasionally, as I deem them appropriate and reasonable.

Since this is my blog, I get to decide how I write, and for the most part, I have chosen to use traditional English grammar rules. Generally, I even use an Oxford comma. Shocking, I know!

Of course, those who disagree are welcome to not read my blog if it bothers them to that extent. If someone is forcing them to read my blog, that is a whole nother problem. They can use grammar in any way they choose on their own web pages, but they don’t have the right to dictate to me how I write on my own web page.

I take writing incredibly seriously.

Contrary to what some people have asserted, my use of “he” does not constitute me slandering or marginalizing women. It is just me adhering to grammatical rules.

Neither does it indicate –like in the example of my article, “17 Things Your ADHD Child would Tell You if He Could”– that I do not understand that women and girls are also capable of having ADHD. I’m keenly aware that girls have ADHD! I have ADHD. I went undiagnosed for years because medical doctors didn’t think girls could have ADHD. I decided to not use “they” or “he or she” in the title because it is my right at the author to do so and because I decided it sounded awkward.

I also believe that my audience is intelligent enough to know that “he” can be used as a generic, non-gender specific, single person pronoun –as it has been for centuries. That’s the reality of our language whether its use is debated or not.

Here’s an example:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” –Martin Luther King, Jr

This quote is quite clearly not only referring to male humans. “He” and “man” are used generically to refer to both genders. You could easily replace “a man” and “he” with “a person.”

Here’s another example from the King James Bible:

“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…” –John 8:7

So, I guess that means it is okay for women to cast stones? No, the concept is broader than that. “He” here refers to humans, mankind, people.

English is the language I speak and write in. I didn’t make the grammar rules. I’m using the language to communicate in the way I believe would best convey what I mean. As I mentioned above, others are free to disagree, but they will not dictate how I behave or what choices I make. A larger issue, honestly, is those who think they have a right to dictate to other people what they are and are not allowed to say in a free society. Frankly, it is alarmingly common for members of our current society to hold the belief that they have the right to control other people’s speech and expression.

My blog is not a place for political agendas. If you wish to be a social justice warrior, I’ve listed many practical ways you can help the cause of ADHD in another post which can be found here.

Attacking those who are trying to get information about ADHD out into the public because you disagree with the words they use and their sentence structure is extremely counterproductive. We have bigger fish to fry than the pronoun debate.

Grammar class dismissed.


Sarah Forbes