For example, I want to refer to someone on the internet, but I don't know this person's gender. Which personal-pronoun do I use? (as article I mean he, she, it, etc)

  • You're talking about personal pronouns, not articles. As well, when you say that you don't know the person's gender, do you mean that you don't know what gender, masculine or feminine, they identify with; or do you mean that you don't know if they are male or female? If it's the latter, you're talking about their sex. – tylerharms Jan 28 '14 at 17:45
  • Thank you about the article/pronoun thing. About the gender/sex. Does that affect the answer? D: – brb Jan 28 '14 at 17:53
  • @badroit Do I have to delete this question? – brb Jan 28 '14 at 17:55
  • @ntrx, no, I guess it will be closed as a duplicate. No need to act on your side. And no, the gender/sex thing doesn't affect the answer. (I would have worded it as "gender" too.) – badroit Jan 28 '14 at 18:04
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    Please ignore @tylerharms' comment about sex and gender: they are are talking about how they presumably think English ought to be, not about how it currently is. – Colin Fine Jan 28 '14 at 19:18

It's perfectly fine to use they in the singular sense. (Verbs are conjugated the same as they would be in the plural sense: "are they joking?", "did they break anything?".)

All the same, when the gender is not known, some authors prefer constructions like (s)he, he/she, he or she, she or he, etc., some prefer to stick with the masculine pronoun as default (he), others prefer to stick with the feminine pronoun for balance (she), some will alternate using he and she in their writing.

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When talking about a hypothetical person, "they" is quite established usage, although "he or she" is more formal.

Someone posting a question should always clearly indicate the type of answer they want.


Someone posting a question should always clearly indicate the type of answer he or she wants.

However, you can risk offending someone if you use "they" about that person in particular -- almost as much as if you guessed and used the wrong gender. In that case, I would re-write the sentence to reuse the user name or to use other nouns:

As @ntrx clearly states in the question...


As the original poster clearly stated...

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    Have you encountered somebody being offended by being referred to as they by somebody who didn't know their sex? I don't recall that I have. I have encountered people who got annoyed about anybody using they to refer to one person in any circumstances, but that's different. – Colin Fine Jan 28 '14 at 19:21
  • @ColinFine Fair argument. I certainly can't cite any examples one way or the other. But most of the time you can sidestep the issue, so I would recommend doing that if you can, just to avoid having your message lost in a debate on grammar. – AmeliaBR Jan 28 '14 at 20:30

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