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I know that in certain cases, you can form a gender-neutral sentence with a form of "they", e.g.:

If a person goes out to their car...

You could also use "his or her" or some variation:

If a person goes out to his or her car...

But can the gender pronouns be reversed in order? Is this technique used a lot? Example of this:

If a person goes out to her or his car...

Why or why not?

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People do use "her or his". And as they do, they certainly can.

Google gives a lot of hits on "her or his" (including, of course, many "false positives" such as "her (or his)" etc. The sheer volume suggests that there is relatively little need for concern. However, those who do not take to it (I don't) are blithely free to avoid it in their own utterances.

A minor catch lies in the fact that "her" is a personal pronoun as well as possessive. Thus, under conditions, ambiguity or misunderstanding may occur. Consider

The teacher announced each of the students was expected to consult her or his parents.

Whether "her" is personal or possessive here is anybody's guess.

FWIW, it is often neater to rephrase, not referring to gender at all if unknown.

  • 1
    Ahh yes, I forgot about her being a personal pronoun. That's some awesome command of the English language to throw a sentence like that together, bravo! "Her or his" does have a little difficulty rolling off the tongue, but that is perhaps from it's sparse use? – salad_bar_breath Jan 11 '16 at 23:56
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Although both "his or her" or "her or his" are grammatical, the first is conventional, probably because for most people having the sounds in that order sounds slightly better. (Though "their" is even more conventional.)

It isn't at all a sexist thing, which you can tell by considering other conventional phrases such as "ladies and gentlemen". If you think of your friends who are couples, you would probably say their names with the guy's name coming first for half, and the girl's name first for the other half.

  • Ladies and gentlemen is so sexist! :) The full phrase of "Ladies and gentlemen" is "My lords, ladies and gentlemen". Thus titled and untitled ladies are lumped together, and mere gentlemen come last. Not just sexist but classist. – ab2 Jan 12 '16 at 1:51
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    I agree that it is not a sexist thing. I also agree that you need 3K rep points as fast as you can. :-) – user140086 Jan 12 '16 at 4:20

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