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Hi Emotion: smile

There's something I really don't know: what's the usual, common, informal way to refer to someone whose gender unknown? I know that when the person is not identified we use they (someone, anyone, nobody, etc. - Example: Someone left their book here), and we also use they when speaking in general (a person, a doctor, etc. Example:The user can write their comment here).

But the real problem is, what if the person is a specific person and I don't know if they (they? ) are a male or a female? Here's a few examples:

  • your doctor, your cousin, your teacher... Ex: A:My cousin fell off a ladder - B: I hope they are all right!
  • the next president of the US, the new doctor... Ex: Dr. Jone moved. There should be a new doctor now. I hope they are friendly.
  • the killer, the suspect, the terrorist, the author... Ex: There seems to be a killer in town, they have killed nine girls so far.
  • the nurse, that truck driver, that police officer... Ex:The nurse changed the drip while I was sleeping. I'm sure they'll be back to change the dressing later. /// Ex: A:I heard that a secretary was killed yesterday here in LA..- B: Were they working at YummyYummy Inc.?
  • Dr. Brown, Professor Jone... Ex: Tomorrow Dr. Brown is visiting our laboratory. They will also explain how to make an atomic bomb.
  • Nicknames, ambiguous names or foreign names: NM456, PrettyChick79, Chris, Alerania Muhusabanu... Ex:There's a new user, Kooyeen. -- Who are they? -- I don't know, they said they are learning American English.
  • ...and many more cases!
I'm interested only in common usage (or informal, everyday usage), not formal usage (I know that in formal usage I should use "he or she" or rephrase). So I'd like to know how native speakers, especially from the US, cope with that problem in everyday life. Do you use they, he, or even she in case you are talking about a certain secretary or nurse? I hope you understand my problem, I'm so confused.

PS: I already asked something similar in this forum, but the examples in question were too specific. I'd like to get back to this topic from a more general point of view.

Thank you in advance Emotion: smile
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Hi,

There's something I really don't know: what's the usual, common, informal way to refer to someone whose gender unknown? I know that when the person is not identified we use they (someone, anyone, nobody, etc. - Example: Someone left their book here), and we also use they when speaking in general (a person, a doctor, etc. Example:The user can write their comment here). Yes.

But the real problem is, what if the person is a specific person and I don't know if they (they? ) are a male or a female? Here's a few examples:


  • your doctor, your cousin, your teacher... Ex: A:My cousin fell off a ladder - B: I hope they are all right! I'd probably default to saying 'he'. The speaker may not consider it's important to correct me. If they do want to correct me, they just say something like 'It's my sister's daughter' or 'She didn't get hurt badly'.
  • the next president of the US, the new doctor... Ex: Dr. Jone moved. There should be a new doctor now. I hope they are friendly. ditto
  • the killer, the suspect, the terrorist, the author... Ex: There seems to be a killer in town, they have killed nine girls so far. In real life, these killers are usually male.
  • the nurse, that truck driver, that police officer... Ex:The nurse changed the drip while I was sleeping. I'm sure they'll be back to change the dressing later. Most nurses are women, so I'd probably say 'she'. /// Ex: A:I heard that a secretary was killed yesterday here in LA..- B: Were they working at YummyYummy Inc.? 'They' sounds OK here. One's choice is often just idiomatic.
  • Dr. Brown, Professor Jone... Ex: Tomorrow Dr. Brown is visiting our laboratory. They will also explain how to make an atomic bomb. Default to 'he'.
  • Nicknames, ambiguous names or foreign names: NM456, PrettyChick79, Chris, Alerania Muhusabanu... Ex:There's a new user, Kooyeen. -- Who are they? -- I don't know, they said they are learning American English. 'They' sounds OK.
  • ...and many more cases!


  • Best wishes, Clive

Comments  
Thank you very much.

Now the problem is trying to figure out a general rule... Maybe these questions could help us find it. My comments are in blue:

When is it common to use they? And when is it possible or in use? It is common with generic names, not associated with any stereotype, like runner, driver, teacher, professor, suspect, etc., and with some names when we can't guess the gender, like nicknames or foreign names. It is possible and in use with stereotypes associated with both males and females.

When is it common to use he? And when is it possible or in use? It's common with some stereotypes usually associated with males, like truck driver, soldier, police officer, serial killer, doctor, scientist, etc. It is possible and in use with generic names, not associated with any stereotype, like runner, driver, teacher, professor, suspect, etc.

When is it common to use she? It's common with some stereotypes usually associated with females, like nurse and secretary

Are there some exceptions? Sometimes we can choose to avoid using a pronoun, for example repeating the subject, using "that" or "that person". Sometimes we can use "he or she", only to start with, then you go on just using "he".

Further considerations: sometimes the stereotype associated with someone is too strong, so the pronoun associated with "soldier" is practically always "he"

To sum up:

  • male stereotype: he, also they

  • female stereotype: she, also they (sometimes he, as a generic he)

  • no stereotypes: they, also he

  • nicknames or foreign names: they
Let me know what do you think of my considerations, and what are yours. Thank you.