Which one is more common and natural? (in spoken and written English)

  1. Someone has left their bag on the table?
  2. Someone has left his or her bag on the table?
  3. Someone has left his bag on the table?

1 Answer 1


All three sentences are acceptable in both written and spoken English, but each has slightly different meanings.

Using "their" indicates you don't know either the gender or number of people who left the bag on the table.

Using "his or her" indicates you don't know what gender the person who left the bag was, but you know (or assume) it was only one person.

Using "his" indicates you assume the (singular) person who left the bag is male.

If I were to guess the most common spoken usage for this I would personally use the sentence "Someone left their bag on the table."

  • 2
    A few additional thoughts. Nobody ever uses "his or her", especially in speech. It's grammatically correct, but unnatural. It's one or the other, or "their". "Their" is commonly used to refer to one person of unknown gender. Using either "his" or "her" can mean a gender assumption, especially when the gender is suggested by the item. If the item is gender-neutral and a single person is involved, people sometimes use "his" as a non-gender reference. Some people similarly default to "her", although that might be more common with female speakers. The listeners' gender might even play a role.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 22:49
  • 1
    In written English, especially formal writing, "their" would not be used to refer to a single person. It's a simplification commonly used in speech that is incorrect. "his or her" might be found in formally writing because it is the correct way to do it, but it is too stilted (and unnecessarily wordy), for casual speech.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 22:58
  • 1
    @fixer1234: 'They', 'Their', or 'Them' are commonly used as placeholders to refer to one or more people (if you don't know the number), or for one person (if you don' know their sex). If you know the sex and/or number of people, 'their' is only correct if there are more than one person. If I say that 'they' vandalized my car, that doesn't mean it wasn't just one person who did so, it just means I don't know the actual number. If instead I say 'he' vandalized my car, it implies I know who because it might have been a 'she'. Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 5:17
  • "Nobody ever uses "his or her" Totally disagree. It is actually quite common, at least in America. Here's a sampling of books that use "his or her" in discussing topics such as soccer strategy, tax law, child development and managing diabetes: google.com/…
    – Adam
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 17:47
  • Even infantile purple dinosaurs use it in their songs lyrics: "Everyone is special, in his or her own way." youtube.com/watch?v=k_t7pTfdYts
    – Adam
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 17:54

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