26 7 / 2012
This is wrong:
Any student with an exam conflict should submit their request form to the registrar.
The word “their” is not a substitute for “he or she.” It is a pronoun referring to two or more people at once. In less politically correct days, it was considered grammatical to simply use “he” in any instance where gender was indeterminate. But this:
Any student with an exam conflict should submit his request form to the registrar.
is no longer really considered correct either. According to A Canadian Writer’s Reference it’s widely seen as sexist.
However, the correct way of phrasing a sentence like this is pretty cumbersome:
Any student with an exam conflict should submit his or her request form to the registrar.
Maybe one isn’t that bad, but if you think of a whole paper (eight pages or so) of always having to use “his or her,” that gets pretty annoying and repetitive.
The solution is pretty much to just poke around with a sentence until you can write it so that using “he or she” isn’t necessary. There are two fairly easy ways to do this:
1) Use a plural: Students with exam conflicts should submit their request forms to the registrar. Because “students” is plural, denoting a group, the word “their” is correct in this instance.
2) Reword the sentence so that you don’t need a pronoun at all: Any student with an exam conflict may submit a request form to the registrar.
Have fun being politically correct!