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

💡 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 número.

 Entonces, ¿cuál es el problema?

El problema es que, en inglés, 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 género (como 'a student', 'a child', 'somebody', 'everybody', 'a person', etc.), ¿deberíamos 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 solución, 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 opción no tiene aceptación unánime porque no hay concordancia en número entre el pronombre y su antecedente, y en contextos muy formales o académicos 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."

Finalmente, se recomienda usar el nombre en plural para que concuerde en número 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 ¿cómo lo aplicaríamos 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.)

🔗See also: One and Sexist language

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


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