When talking about or referring to someone who could either be a male or a female, I usually write it as (s)he but I have also seen usage like he/she, which also seems correct to me.

I use (s)he mostly because I find it shorter (fewer keystrokes). Are both (s)he and he/she correct? Any references are welcome.

And could s/he also be used?

  • 12
    You should use they. Jan 13, 2014 at 20:26
  • 3
    That's really a Style Guide kind of a question... any of them could be used, or you could write the whole thing in "gender-neutral plurals" (using they everywhere), or you could define 'Jane, a typical user' and then refer to "her" the entire time.
    – Hellion
    Jan 13, 2014 at 20:26
  • 3
    I believe that in formal writing it should be he or she. If you're writing emails to friends and colleagues, it's your choice. I might write s/he which use even fewer keystrokes!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 13, 2014 at 20:49
  • 2
    I've worked on submissions where only one of your alternatives was considered correct – the other was returned for 'correction'. I can't remember which it was, and I'm sure that others have met with the alternative stance. 'They' (used as singular) (yes, really) is probably the generally (though by no means universally) preferred option nowadays, as Matt seems to suggest. Eventually, you have to come to the conclusion that anyone demanding a particular alternative here is setting themself (oops, him/herself) up as English Czar. We haven't got one. Jan 13, 2014 at 20:49
  • 1
    @MattЭллен But since BleedingFingers is asking a specific question, it is unclear as to whether they (huh?) are (?) open to an alternative.
    – bib
    Jan 13, 2014 at 20:49

3 Answers 3


Take a big chunk of your text and print it out in a few different ways, read it, and see which you prefer. There isn't a correct answer here.

Do pay attention to the visual - if you're using the phrase often enough, then your page may look like a mess of /'s or ()'s from a distance.

Personally, I'm biased towards "they" or rewriting so that your pronouns refer to an example person with a defined gender. This doesn't leave anyone out, especially folks who find neither "he" nor "she" to be a good fit for their gender. (Plus it avoids the aforementioned symbol overload.)


You have asked a dangerous question. I would use he or she. The use of the genderless they is so widely accepted nowadays that questions regarding its use or non-use will not validate in standardized testing and, therefore, agreement is no longer tested on the SAT using the genderless they. S/he looks tawdry to my eye because it is, at best, a novel use of the slash. In the final analysis, the best answer will depend on your audience. If they are in their 60s or older, I'd avoid the use of anything other than "he or she." If they are younger, he or she still allows you to avoid the issue. And I cannot say that they is wrong, despite the fact that hearing it pains my aged ears.

  • 3
    In these days of gender fluidity, perhaps he and/or she might be a more encompassing option. ;-) Jan 16, 2014 at 11:27
  • If you specifically want to embrace non-binary genders, why not use a gender neutral pronoun for a more encompassing option? :) Jan 21, 2014 at 14:57

Yes, both (s)he and he/she are acceptable abbreviations for usage where space is at a premium and gender of a person is important.

s/he is not a common abbreviation, and will confuse more users than the other two.

However, if at all possible, you should ignore the issue. Inhuman beings can safely be referred to as "it" (ie, the cow and its feed), and while you can refer to humans that way as well you may not wish to for style reasons, and instead use gender neutral titles instead of pronouns. (baby and baby's parent)

  • 2
    If the author tries to avoid all pronouns, the author's prose turns turgid and unreadable and the author quickly loses the author's audience. Jun 19, 2016 at 16:38

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