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I often see sentences like

We are interested in predicting whether an individual will default on his or her credit card or

Activate only when your opponent adds a card to his or her hand

Why are people using "his or her"? Would it be correct to replace "his or her" with "their"? For example

We are interested in predicting whether an individual will default on their credit card

This seems like it says the same as the first sentence, but I never see it used.

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There is a movement afoot (actually, the "movement" dates back many years, I suspect) to get rid of the awkward pairing of supposedly singular words such as someone, anyone, individual, person, ad infinitum with he/she or his/her and just go with they and their. Instead of

If anyone wants to leave, he or she should feel free to do so,

just say

If anyone wants to leave, they should feel free to do so.

Or, instead of

Somebody made a mess in the kitchen, and he or she knows who he or she is,

just say

Somebody made a mess in the kitchen, and they know who they are.

To be honest, I've had difficulty getting used the less awkward their paired with supposedly singular words, but I have been trying it lately, and no one on this site reprimanded me--at least thus far.

By the way, an interim technique of mine (and I suspect of some other weirdos) is to make the singular word really plural so that the pronoun replacing it has to be plural also. Instead of

Every individual needing a pencil raised his or her hand,

I might use

All those needing a pencil raised their hand.

Or, instead of

Every person here is responsible for his or her own property,

I might use

All people here are responsible for their own property.

Strict grammarians, at one time, may have been a little inflexible in this regard; loosey-goosey communicators nowadays, on the other hand, not so much. I say, "Go for it, user78655."

Oh, and anyone else so inclined, well, they too should go for it!

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    The movement succeeded with most English speakers several decades ago. And strict grammarians are indeed inflexible here; we believe that he/she is hopelessly gauche. The correct pronoun, according to strict grammarians, is their. The people who think he/she is cool are not grammarians, though they may indeed be strict. Grammarians know better. – John Lawler Oct 2 '15 at 23:39
  • The pairing of 'she' with 'their' is nonsensical. The modern practice pairs singular 'they' if needed with 'their'. 'She' and 'her' make a fixed pairing. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 3 '15 at 1:52
  • @EdwinAshworth: Feel free to edit my answer as you see fit. Not being a grammarian, I am sometimes careless (ignorant?) in the way I word all things grammatical. Perhaps I should have said "the third-person singular word, such as 'anyone'--i.e., he/she--paired with the third-person possessive plural," or some such thing. Again, feel free to edit. Thanks. Don – rhetorician Oct 3 '15 at 13:54
  • It has been answered before. 'Singular they' is the phrase to look up. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 3 '15 at 20:41
  • @EdwinAshworth: Does my latest edit make my answer at least somewhat more sensible? Just wonderin'. Don – rhetorician Oct 3 '15 at 23:14

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