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Should we say "help a student with his/her homework" or "help a student with their homework"?

馃挕 Quick answer:

→ In informal contexts, use the 3rd person plural: 'they', 'them', 'theirs', 'their' or 'themselves'  help a student with their homework.

→ In formal contexts, use the 3rd person singular: 'he/she', 'him/her', 'his/hers', 'his/her' or 'himself/herself'  help a student with his or her homework.

If possible, use a plural nounthe 3rd person plural help students with their homework.


A pronou
n replaces a noun or noun phrase. The noun or noun phrase replaced is called the 'antecedent' of the pronoun, and the pronoun must agree in person and number with its antecedent.
El pronombre reemplaza al nombre. El nombre reemplazado es el 'antecedente' del pronombre, y ambos deben concordar en persona y n煤mero.

 Entonces, ¿cu谩l es el problema?

El problema es que, en ingl茅s, la 3ra persona singular tiene 'he' (masculino), 'she' (femenino) e 'it' (animales + nombres inanimados).

Por lo tanto, cuando debemos reemplazar o referirnos a un nombre animado (persona) en singular que no distingue g茅nero (como 'a student', 'a child', 'somebody', 'everybody', 'a person', etc.), ¿deber铆amos usar 'he' o 'she' o ambos?

HE/SHELa primera respuesta puede ser que usemos ambos:
→ Everybody must do his or her best.
 Someone has texted me; I don't know who he or she is.
Sin embargo, esto puede resultar pesado y confuso si aparece repetidamente en el texto.

THEY: Como soluci贸n, entonces, se ha comenzado a utilizar la 3ra persona plural (they) para incluir el femenino y el masculino:
 Everybody must do their best.
    (Singular)              (plural)
 Someone has texted me; I don't know who they are.
    (Singular)                                                (plural)
Esta opci贸n no tiene aceptaci贸n un谩nime porque no hay concordancia en n煤mero entre el pronombre y su antecedente, y en contextos muy formales o acad茅micos puede desaconsejarse. (See: Gender Neutral Language)

Sobre esta controversia, Oxford Dictionary dice:

"Some people object to the use of plural pronouns in this type of situation on the grounds that it’s ungrammatical. In fact, the use of plural pronouns to refer back to a singular subject isn’t new: it represents a revival of a practice dating from the 16th century. It’s increasingly common in current English and is now widely accepted both in speech and in writing."

馃敆Go to full article ⇒ ‘He or she’ versus ‘they’.
馃敆You can read more about the debate surrounding the use of ‘he or she’ versus ‘they’ on the Oxford Dictionaries blog.

Finalmente, se recomienda usar el nombre en plural para que concuerde en n煤mero con 'they', pero esto no siempre es posible.
→ En lugar de: "A student should finish their homework before playing video games", podemos decir"Students should finish their homework before playing video games"
→ Pero ¿c贸mo lo aplicar铆amos en: "Someone has texted me; I don't know who they are"?

Sobre este tema Cambridge English Grammar Today dice:

Traditionally, he and him were used to refer to both genders in formal writing:

If anyone has any evidence to oppose this view, let him inform the police immediately.

Nowadays, we often see gender neutral forms (e.g. he or she, he/she, s/he, (s)he, they and him or her, him/her, them) when we do not know if the person referred to is male or female:

The bank manager could help with your problem. He or she will probably be able to give you a loan. (orhe/she will probably be able to … orthey will probably be able to …)

Go to a hairdresser. Ask him or her to come up with a style that suits you, your hair, your lifestyle. (or … ask him/her to come up with a style … or … ask them to come up with a style …)

When you get into the building, go to the person on the desk in the reception area. They can tell you where to go. (or He or she can tell you where to go.)

馃敆See also: One and Sexist language

Gender-inclusive Language (From Speak English with Emma)
馃挕You may also want to read: A brief history of singular ‘they’ (from Oxford English Dictionaries Blog)


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