I often see in particular Americans use the words "he/she" (also sometimes "he or she") as a gender-neutral pronoun.

This is grammatically incorrect (the sentence "he/she" makes no grammatical sense), it's clumsy, it's long (two syllables), and, to be a bit pedantic, it doesn't even solve the problem of gender bias, because why is it "he/she" and not "she/he"?

On the other hand, we have the perfectly viable alternative of using "they". It's short, it's grammatically correct, it's completely neutral, it just works.

So why do so many speakers use the clumsy "he/she" rather than the elegant "they"?

  • Are you also saying that use 1 than 2 is elegant and that saying use 1 rather than 2 is clumsy? Commented May 3, 2018 at 14:26
  • It's overworked. But if most people (or even a significant number) use 'he/she' or 'he or she' rather than 'they', this establishes 'correct grammar'. Arguing otherwise is like saying that all the people who use 'It's us' (ie 99+% of Anglophones) are being ungrammatical. Extragrammatical (ie outside normal grammar) idioms exist. Commented May 3, 2018 at 15:03
  • The short answer is that it actually is grammatical (or arguably so). But whether it should be used is one of style. Most style guides will say it should not be used in formal writing. And those people who don't like they object to it on the grounds that they don't believe it should be used as a singular gender-neutral pronoun. Again, this is a matter of style. (Although they can argue it's ungrammatical, as many people can argue that it isn't.) In theory, using it could also be used—but that has very little traction. Commented May 3, 2018 at 15:16
  • 1
    'They' can get confusing: "The player has the ball and they now have to pass it to the opposition." So, it doesn't seem to always work.
    – Řídící
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 16:45

1 Answer 1


I would read he/she aloud with three syllables, saying the "or".

Sometimes context or style, or avoidance of repetition might demand, or be thought to make preferable, the use of phrases that make the reader think of one theoretical individual in the scenario described, making it more personal than it would be if we used a generic abstract "they".

Personally, I would sooner SAY he/she than write it, for what that's worth.

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