Monday Morning Grammar: Pronouns Part IX—Indeterminate Gender

This is another he or she post. Although I’ve already established my preference for this admittedly awkward construction instead of he, which is sexist, or they, which is grammatically incorrect, it bears reiterating as different scenarios present themselves.

Such as with antecedents of indeterminate gender:

If you use an artist’s image on your website, you should give him or her credit—it’s just good manners.

Here, using the traditional him would preclude the possibility that the artist might be female, and using the plural them is incorrect, since artist is singular.

The pronoun it can also be used to refer to antecedents of indeterminate gender, even if the gender could be identified, if the sex of the noun it refers to is not known or not important:

The baby cried for its mother.

The cat lapped up its milk.

Do you have a question about pronouns? Let me know, and I’ll include it in a future installment of Mots Justes’ ongoing series.

The Mots Justes Series on Pronouns

Part I—The Basics

Part II—Location, Location, Location

Part III—Number

Part IV—Person

Part V—Gender, Plus “They” as a Gender-Neutral Singular Pronoun

Part VI—On the Case

Part VII—Something Personal Between You and Me

Part VIII—Infinitives


Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.



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2 responses to “Monday Morning Grammar: Pronouns Part IX—Indeterminate Gender

  1. Bill

    Artist is a mass noun. it cam be one person or hundreds. How many artist sang in “We are the World”?

    • motsjustes

      Hi Bill, Thanks for visiting!

      “Artist” is a singular noun, meaning one person. “Artists” is plural, meaning more than one. Many artists sang in “We Are the World.” -ae

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