Formally, a singular personal pronoun such as anyone, everyone, each person, a baby, a child, a persona is paired with a singular possessive pronoun (his or her).
MASCULINE FOR MALES
Everyone had his picture taken. All are male.
FEMININE FOR FEMALES
Everyone had her picture taken.
All are female.
MASCULINE/ FEMININE FOR BOTH GENDERS
Everyone had his picture taken.
Everyone had her picture taken.
Could be male or female. Note that some baby books alternate use of gender pronouns in each paragraph in order to be fair.
COMPOSITE OR PLURAL
Informally, and mostly in speech, anyone, everyone (sing. personal pronoun.) is paired with their (pl. poss. pronoun), especially when the speaker: (1) doesn't know the gender;
(2) doesn't want to mention the gender;
(3) doesn't want to exclude one gender by using his.
Everyone had his or her picture taken.
Everyone had his/her picture taken.
Everyone had (his)her picture taken.
PLURAL FORM POSSESSIVE
Everyone had their picture taken.
(informal since the 1700s)
composite (adj.) — compound, including separate elements, for example s/he, s(he) expresses (she and he); his/her, his(her) (his, her)
A gender neutral pronoun means that a pronoun is not masculine-only or feminine-only.
In formal English, we use the pronoun his to refer to a male or a female. However, some speakers and writers feel that his does not reflect modern attitudes toward gender equity. "Attempts to invent pronouns for this purpose date back at least to 1850." (Williams)
"The issue is unresolved, but it begins to look as if the use of an indefinite third person singular is not passing unnoticed by standard speakers (except those trained in grammar) and is being left unaltered by copy editors. (Burchfield 776)
"As most commentators note, the traditional pronoun for each of these cases is the masculine third person singular, he, his, him. This tradition goes back to the 18th century grammarians, who boxed themselves into the position by first deciding that the indefinite pronouns must always be singular. They then had to decide between the masculine and feminine pronouns for use in reference to the indefinites, and they chose the masculine (they were of course, all men). (Merriam-Webster 902)
Speakers and writers apply different strategies to deal with the problem. Some avoid the problem by rephrasing (using passive voice), others use both his and her, and others use the plural form – their. (Huddleston 494-5)
Bodine, Anne. "Androcentrism in prescriptive grammar: singular ‘they’, sex-indefinite ‘he’, and ‘he or she." Language in Society (1975), 4 : 129-146 Cambridge University Press. Print.
Burchfield, R. W., and H. W. Fowler. Fowler's Modern English Usage. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Print.
Huddleston, Rodney and Geoffrey K. Pullum, et al. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.
Lakoff, Robin. Language and Woman's Place. Oxford University Press. 1975. Print.
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1994. Print.
Williams, John (1990s). "History — Modern Neologism". Gender-Neutral Pronoun FAQ. 30 April, 2004. Web. 7 July 2011. <http://www.aetherlumina.com/gnp/history.html#net>.
"Gender Neutral Pronoun." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 10 June 2011. Web. 6 July 2011
"Singular 'They'." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 7 July 201a. Web. 30 Aug 2013
Strategies for agreement
Identify the agreement problems.
Read the paragraph about a basketball summer camp. The writer wants to encourage both boys and girls to attend. However, the paragraph has pronoun agreement problems.
Read for Errors
Basketball Camp: More Than Champions
Our camp provides a service to help everyone reach their potential. Our goal is for each camper to work hard and feel good about themselves in a safe,
disciplined, highly structured and motivated environment of learning and fun. We place every child and their personal development ahead of the game.
Every one of our children gets positive encouragement to improve their fundamental skills.
Players also learn sportsmanship while working with theirteam to win. By the end of the camp session, every child will get their certificate. Every child will have enjoyed his basketball camp program.
day-camp (n.) – a place where children can go in the day during the school holidays to do sports, art etc
certificate (n.) – an official paper stating completion of a course, study or exam
champions (n.) – winners of a competition
development (n.) – the process of becoming bigger, better, stronger, or more advanced
disciplined (adj.) – obeying rules and controlling behavior
encouragement (adj.) – giving a person confidence to do something
environment (n.) – the people and things that are around the person, the general situation and feeling one has in the place
fundamentals (n.) – the most important ideas, rules, the basics
goal (n.) – something that a person hopes to achieve in the future, an objective
motivated (adj.) – very much wanting to do or achieve something, especially because it is interesting or exciting
philosophy (n.) – the attitude or set of ideas that guides the behavior of a person or organization
potential (n.) – a natural ability or quality that one has, a talent that practice enables
skill (n.) – an ability to do something well, especially because you have learned and practiced / practiced it
structured (adj.) – carefully organized, planned, or arranged
Select agreement that is satisfactory for the entire paragraph.
Compare your response to the three solutions below.
General vs. Individual Focus
Use plural nouns and pronouns for general statements.
Use singular nouns and pronouns for statements focusing on the individual attention given by the camp.