The use of gender pronouns is often a matter of debate and creates a lot of confusion in writings be it formal publications, official communications or emails. Let’s begin by understanding what the nature of pronouns and how we can use gender pronouns correctly in our communication.
Pronoun is listed as a part of speech to describe a word that is used in place of a noun. There are different kinds of pronouns which are named differently depending on their usage. Pronouns such as I, we, he, she, it, they are called Personal pronouns. Words such as this, that, those, these are called Demonstrative pronouns. Pronouns such as, who, whom, which, whose, where and what can be classified as Interrogative pronouns. Further, depending on the way pronouns are used we can have Relative pronouns, Pronouns of Quantity, Possessive pronouns and Impersonal pronouns.
Gender pronouns are used to indicate gender and may include pronouns such as, he, she, her, him, his, hers, herself, himself, he’d and she’d. The other kinds of pronouns do not make any distinctions between genders and as such are gender-neutral also referred to as “GNPs”, “gender-free pronouns”, “epicene pronouns”, “ungendered pronouns”, “genderless pronouns”, or “natural-gender pronouns”.
In the English language the pronouns such as I, we, he, she, it, they are called Personal pronouns. Of these, the pronouns in the third person singular are gender-specific pronouns They include “he” (singular masculine), ‘she” (singular feminine), and “it” (singular non-personal) used for objects, most animals and for abstractions. Some examples of gender-specific pronouns would make things clearer.
Masculine: He slept. I hugged him. This bag is his. He can comb himself.
Feminine: She slept. I hugged her. This bag is hers. She can comb herself.
Neuter: It is a dull shirt. I have lost it. That den is its. It rubs itself.
In general names of countries, ships, and oceans are used with feminine pronouns. You may have come across references such as “She is a sturdy and fine ship and we are going to enjoy the voyage”. This traditional usage of calling objects “she” is on the decline in modern English usage. Many journalistic guides do not advocate this style of referencing anymore. The use of “she” is more in vogue as a “figure of speech”.
Many times the masculine form is used as a gender neutral pronoun. The argument is that such a word is all inclusive. When we are not sure of the gender, it is common to say something on these lines: “If someone calls from the office, inform him that I’ll call him later.”
But such a usage of the pronoun “he” is not always considered appropriate and writers are under pressure to include the feminine gender also in the sentences. So the new style was to use “she” sometimes while referring in general to a person. Soon it came to be replaced by the term s/he used to indicate either gender. But the term was not well accepted by the academicians and is rarely in use nowadays.
The new trend in gender pronoun currently is the use of the plural pronoun “their” as a singular pronoun. As a result the problem of referring to any particular gender is solved. This technique seeks to please both the genders and many publications seem to have accepted this usage. But staunch grammarians have yet to accept this new trend of using gender pronoun.