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I know this sounds weird but I've been noticing a lot of texts on the Internet like this one:

"Any citizen is concerned with her well-being ...". The word in question is "her". To me it seems like in this case "her" is being used as a gender-neutral pronoun. Is this really the case or is it something else?

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closed as general reference by onomatomaniak, FumbleFingers, kiamlaluno, Mr. Shiny and New 安宇, aedia λ Dec 16 '11 at 17:58

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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Have you checked the Wikipedia article on gender neutral pronouns? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_neutral_pronouns –  onomatomaniak Dec 16 '11 at 16:13
    
No I have not. Don't tase me bro! –  Gukibus Dec 16 '11 at 16:26
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Not tasing; just encouraging due diligence. –  onomatomaniak Dec 16 '11 at 16:28
    
the simple answer is "yes, this is a common trend in English today" –  Joe Blow Oct 31 at 13:57

3 Answers 3

There is a trend to mix up the gender of pronouns, alternating between masculine and feminine, rather than to use the awkward gender-neutral formulations like "his or her", or, worse still, "s/he".

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Isn't it more usual to use "they" instead? To my ears it sounds a lot less awkward than using alternatively "he" and "she". –  Irene Dec 16 '11 at 16:31
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Or the even worse "s/h/it". :-) –  ShreevatsaR Dec 16 '11 at 16:34
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@Irene: It is, and doing so has a long and respectable tradition. –  Barrie England Dec 16 '11 at 16:38
    
@Irene If a person does that, they are wrong. –  JeffSahol Dec 16 '11 at 18:23

It is indeed an attempt to use "her" as a gender-neutral pronoun. It is likely that the author is trying to even out gender bias, by using "his" and "her" with equal frequency, when a gender-neutral sentence is desired.

It is a problem in English. "Their" is not really a satisfactory word for the purpose, yet the standard "his", used universally, gives a huge male bias to English writing.

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To be fair, the more common use of "his" in linguistics is unrelated to social questions of gender equality. –  tenfour Dec 16 '11 at 16:16
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Try telling Andrea Dworkin that ;) –  slim Dec 16 '11 at 16:18
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@Slim: why do you suggest that "their" is not satisfactory? –  tenfour Dec 16 '11 at 16:43
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@tenfour because traditionally "their" is only used in the plural. It is a relatively recent development to attempt to also use it as a singular gender-neutral pronoun (because English doesn't have one), and it sounds unnatural to many people. –  slim Dec 16 '11 at 16:47
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@slim: Singular "they" has been around a long time. Objecting to it now is almost as odd as objecting to singular "you" and insisting on "thou". –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 16 '11 at 17:16

Because I work in the software industry; I go out of my way to use "her" or "she" as that's often the only female to be found!

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