I am learning game theory. I always see that professors write (in text books):

  • a player chooses her strategy
  • If she chooses a strategy

Also some professors use he instead of she.

There other names also like player, but I forgot about them now.

How can I know when to use she versus when to use he in these situations?

  • 3
    Game theory is mathematics. Mathematicians, as Goethe once observed, "are like Frenchmen; whatever you say to them they translate into their own language, and forthwith it is something entirely different." Consider the ideal game player: the ideal game player has human intelligence and a consistent desire to win in a game. Nothing else is necessary, so gender is optional and can be assigned any available constant without loss of generality. Commented May 16, 2014 at 14:54

1 Answer 1


This is an area where English is transitioning. Until thirty or forty years ago, almost every writer wrote he in this sense, without thinking any further about it.

Now, there is no generally accepted answer. If you write he, some will complain that females are being ignored or excluded. If you write he/she the result is ugly or unwieldy.

I prefer they, which has been used in this sense for centuries, but some people object to it.

Some writers use she, or use both he and she either alternately or at random.

A few writers have tried to popularise neologisms such as ze.

As I say, there is no generally accepted solution to the problem.

  • I wouldn't recommend the singular common gender usage of they, them to an English learner, but only because some people object to it without understanding why it's valid. Commented May 16, 2014 at 15:07
  • As long as they learn the correct rule -- "Use singular they only for nonspecific indefinite referents" -- they'll just sound like natives. If that bothers the ignorant, it's nothing new and can't be avoided in any case. Commented May 16, 2014 at 15:33
  • @JohnLawler: I also use singular they for specific referents whose gender is unknown.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented May 16, 2014 at 15:35
  • @JohnLawler Or specific referents whose gender is non-binary. (This topic has received massive coverage since you wrote that article in 2005, and it’s really rocking the singular they boat, it seems. I recall several style guides changing their views on it in recent years.)
    – lynn
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 15:08
  • @Lynn: Yeah, that one's a new addendum and hasn't had time to age properly yet. I predict it will either be avoided, or if not, it will find a set of comfortable contexts and disappear from notice. Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 15:17

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