in this comment @CGCampbell suggests that I check the inclusion section of the code of conduct. I have done so, and the relevant sentenced seems to be "Prefer gender-neutral language when uncertain."

Is the use of "s/he" for a hypothetical person, or a person of unknown gender and preferences really considered exclusionary, or non-inclusive? I dislike singular they, although I know perfectly well that it has a long history of use by acclaimed authors, and have defended the use of it by others. My dislike is a personal stylistic choice, but I would use it (or write around any pronoun use) for a person who I know to have expressed a preference for being refereed to as "they" I think that "s/he" is more clearly singular, and is very clearly gender-neutral.

I raise the matter here, rather than continuing in the comments of an answer to which this is of at best limited relevance. I do not raise it on the main meta, because I have found responses to questions there unhelpful, and I am interested specifically in the views of posters on Politics.

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    Why do we need to worry about gender when responding to someone?
    – Joe W
    Commented Mar 5, 2021 at 18:31
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    @Joe W Some people are offended by the use of incorrect pronouns. Some feel excluded if a generic person is refereed to as "he" as if to be female is an abnormal condition. Some express particular views on how they should be addressed or refereed to. Commented Mar 5, 2021 at 18:34
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    Doesn't that mean it would be better to not include those pronouns in the first place so you don't get it wrong? In the end you will never please everyone but if you don't include a gender pronoun you can't get it wrong.
    – Joe W
    Commented Mar 5, 2021 at 18:45
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    Note that the comment in question has been deleted, though we can see the competing edits in the post history
    – divibisan
    Commented Mar 5, 2021 at 20:12
  • @JoeW Yes, that is a way I also prefer, but one must be careful to consistently do this as per point 4 in the FAQ.
    – Alexei
    Commented Mar 7, 2021 at 16:04
  • Related on the stack it appears singular they is preferred to the point of being required.
    – Jontia
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 15:10
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    @Joe W - the problem seems to be that English does not have a singular pronoun that does not have gender associated with it. 'She' & 'he' are singular and gendered, 'they' is not gendered but it is not singular.
    – anon
    Commented Mar 12, 2021 at 0:27
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    @JoeW while one can do that, it sometimes requires quite a contortion of language. The singular "they" may not fly on a journal submission or even school essay but is becoming more acceptable in practice all the time, especially in spoken English where constructs like he/she are even more awkward. Commented Mar 12, 2021 at 11:45
  • @JaredSmith I was not referring to a journal or school paper but stack exchange in general
    – Joe W
    Commented Mar 12, 2021 at 12:54
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    @JS Lavertu - I spoke in the context of David's question. I agree with the people who think it is plural, and it's singular form is a least-worst compromise due to the lack of an actual gender-free singular pronoun. I am not going to say anything more on the matter, having learned below that it is risky to buck the group mind here.
    – anon
    Commented Mar 13, 2021 at 1:47
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    There are a small number of people who do not identify as a 'he' or a 'she'. They may identify as both, or neither, or something far more complicated. There are also a small number of folks who consider gender to be a restraining or harmful social construct and thus prefer to not use it at all, regardless of which gender they otherwise might consider themselves to be.. Thus while s/he is far more inclusive then he or she there is still a tiny minority that will not feel the term works for referring to them personally.
    – dsollen
    Commented Mar 15, 2021 at 21:29

3 Answers 3


Personally, I don't think "s/he" is very elegant (see also this post on ELU from before the discussion on Meta started). I don't object to using singular they, so for me it's easy to use that.

From your perspective with stylistic choices in mind, I would try to avoid them both. I've stated a few examples at the end of my answer which show that it's quite easy to avoid having to use pronouns all together.

Network policy

The FAQ on pronoun use on the SE network may be found on the main meta site.

On the use of he/she as opposed to they, the FAQ says:

5. "Gender-neutral"? Does that mean like "he/she"?

Not quite. While “he/she” and similar compound pronouns are better than a default masculine “he” alone, gender-neutral writing works to avoid gendered terms entirely when gender is unknown, either through rephrasing statements to avoid pronouns or through the usage of singular (or plural) “they”. For examples and other methods, see Kate Gregory’s answer to a related question - Define "gender-neutral language"? (CoC FAQ)

In that sense, he/she and s/he are considered less inclusive than they. Based on comments from community moderator Catija on the main Meta site, the preference for gender neutral language extends to hypothetical people:

A post speaks of a hypothetical or generic person. In this case, unless the gender somehow matters to the post, being gender neutral is beneficial.

Avoiding pronoun disputes in practice

In your example, however, you could simply write in the plural form. The subject would then be those candidates who want to win an office to prevent its role from being done (which is a simple rewrite of the question title). Your sentence could then be:

Such candidates are not intending to omit doing the job they are elected to do; they merely choose to follow a particular policy.

In this case you use plural they, which is perfectly gender neutral and avoid the objection to using it in the singular form.

Another approach would be to turn the sentence around:

Merely following a particular policy is not the same as omitting to do one's job.

Such rewrites are also encouraged by the FAQ:

4. I find it really distressing to use pronouns in a way I think is wrong. Is there really no alternative?

You can often avoid using pronouns altogether. It's actually pretty rare to need third-person pronouns at all on most Stack Exchange sites. But conspicuously avoiding using pronouns for one group of people while using them normally for others is a way of refusing to recognize their identity, and that is discriminatory. Please don’t do that.

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    Regardless of the inclusivity issues (which are serious, substantial, and should not be ignored), how do you even pronounce "s/he"? My mental voice trips over constructions like that and it makes questions and answers harder to read.
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 20:29
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    @Kevin "she or he", presumably. But I agree with the OP that they works perfectly fine, and the only objections I've ever seen are not based on inclusivity but misguided attempts at grammar purity. Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 14:57
  • @Kevin serious answer? I don't pronounce it. I often scan over words when reading where I know the meaning of them but don't bother pronouncing them. For instance any time I have a character where the pronunciation of their name isn't obvious I'll just sort of scan over the name without trying to mentally pronounce it, but knowing what character it refers to. I do much the same with s/he, I scan over it, parse it as meaning "he or she", and don't try to figure out the pronunciation. That works find so long as you don't include s/he in say a written speech.
    – dsollen
    Commented Mar 15, 2021 at 21:35

First, you will notice the comment I made no longer exists. I did not want to participate in starting yet another debate, ala Monica-gate, no matter how large OR small.

However, since you posted this (I will admit I did not see it until now)... whether you (or I) accept things like gender-diversity and the existence of non-binary genders, the fact of the matter is that in today's society, not just in the US, and not just in Europe, many people do believe and consider themselves not 'male' or 'female', but rather some spectrum of other.

I, too, have disagreed with using the (plural) they when referring to a singular being. However, I was recently involved, in a very tangential way, in a gender-inclusivity issue. I have come to realize that not everyone views things the same way and others' viewpoints are as equally valid as mine may be.

Be all that as it may, saying s/he, meaning she or he, is simply not inclusive of non-binary viewpoints, beliefs or reality in today's society. StackExchange is a multinational exchange, and must be inclusive, as much as possible. As users of this product, we need to follow the rules given by it.

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    Is someone who isn't a "he" or a "she" excluded by the expression "s/he"? Would someone read that expression and think "Only males, plus females, but nobody else"?
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Mar 12, 2021 at 23:49
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    @AndrewGrimm: Anyone reading “s/he” understands perfectly well that it’s (usually) intended to cover everybody, not to exclude them from the specific point in quetsion. But its usage is based on the idea that “she” + “he” to covers everybody — which is precisely what nonbinary people, very reasonably, feel excluded by. Compare the old-fashioned usage of generic “he”. Readers understood perfectly well that it was intended to include women; the objection is that it’s rooted in, and reinforces, the worldview of maleness as the default and primary norm, and anything else as “other”. Commented Mar 13, 2021 at 16:40
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    The problem with this argument is that what is "the right thing to do" depends exclusively on agreement. If one disagrees, it is not the "right thing" for that person pretty much by definition. (Yes, there are people who value grammatical purity over inclusiveness).
    – Zeus
    Commented Mar 17, 2021 at 2:45

There is a construction that might help. You can refer to "one" rather than he, or she or s/he. As in:

One might think that using s/he betrays a inherent bias in the writer's mind because the term only admits two genders. Yet every day more and more people are declaring their own unique identity!


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