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Is using “he” for a gender-neutral third-person correct?

I’m sure this is a duplicate, but I've heard that when the gender is unknown you are to use he instead of he or she.

Are there any references to support or discredit this? If so, what is the rule?

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marked as duplicate by coleopterist, Kristina Lopez, Matt Эллен, Neil Coffey, StoneyB Feb 2 '13 at 3:25

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English has no singular gender-neutral pronoun. For centuries, English speakers have used he as the default. At the same time, they have also used the plural they as well. There are no unbreakable grammar rules about this. It's strictly a matter of political correctness (PC). If you want to be PC, use the they/their/them forms for singular persons of unknown gender. If you want to be PI (politically incorrect) for whatever reason, stick to the traditional use of he, but don't be surprised if someone accuses you of sexism or intellectual gerontism (ancient & petrified brain). –  user21497 Jan 31 '13 at 2:23
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Not to worry; see here, for instance. –  John Lawler Jan 31 '13 at 4:02
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I don't think this is a duplicate of the singular-they question. This is "is he the default if you don't want to use either singular-they or 'he/she'?*, which is a totally different question. –  Marthaª Jan 31 '13 at 4:39
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@MετάEd: no, this question is not asking what to replace "he or she" with. It's asking whether "he" is the default pronoun. I'm certainly under the impression that historically, it used to be, but I have no references to support this belief. –  Marthaª Jan 31 '13 at 7:26
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@BillFranke Anyone over 45 should be reference enough! But then perhaps my English teacher was of the generation who would have taught current 60-year-olds. –  Andrew Leach Feb 1 '13 at 15:57

1 Answer 1

'He' is no longer the default pronoun. Many authors of finance related books will make a brief note in the preface that when a generic person is involved, he (the author) will use the female pronoun. I don't believe the rules we had 40 years ago to stay with male pronouns still applies.

Side note - on the school public announcement system, "whoever lost their jacket...." as I was sitting in my high school English class, I remarked on the plural pronoun and was told it was accepted as an attempt to be gender neutral. It was an all boys school.

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Using he is bad enough, but using her for a generic is still horribly jarring. It's an in-your-fact thing where somebody is trying to score political points with their weird pronouns. –  tchrist Feb 2 '13 at 0:20
    
@tchrist - Feeling the way you do may reflect your background, age, etc. As a financial writer, with an audience that's contains more women that men, the female pronoun in that context doesn't feel contrived. Since, on average, men marry younger women, and, on average, men die younger, I'm addressing far more widows that widowers. –  JoeTaxpayer Feb 2 '13 at 1:46

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