In my writing group, one man wrote this sentence in an except we critiqued:

John stood for a moment and watched the lithe, young figure make her way down the street.

I suggested it should read "young figure make its way down the street." It sounds funny to me to refer to a figure as her. However, everyone disagreed with me and said it was fine the way it was. Which is correct?

  • Suppose it had been ".....watched the lithe, young figure make his way down the street." Would you have had the same objection? – ab2 May 21 '17 at 19:42
  • If it had been a shadow, I might understand your objection, but presumably "John" could tell whether the "figure" was a female or male one. – Mari-Lou A May 21 '17 at 21:51

There is no 'correct'. The biggest problem with 'amateur' writing groups is that members invariably suggest things should be written they way they would have written them.

I find the original a little clunky but your amendment is also lacking. At some point the author wanted to reveal the character as female but as I say - there is no 'correct' about it.

The uphill battle faced by good, aspiring writers is that others will deem everything they don't understand as an error. However if Hemingway writes an awkward sentence it is hailed as genius.

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Either can be correct, depending on the context and intent of the author.

Your way is literally correct in standard English. "It" is certainly a reference to "figure."

But in a literary setting, if John watches a "lithe young figure..." then "women" immediately pops into my mind (unless John is gay). Moreover, John is probably not watching a lithe young animal (dog or cat) walk down the street.

Then, "makes her way," down the street confirms that it is a woman, which may have been the author's intent.

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