Somebody lost his/her glasses

...sometimes I heard people saying

Somebody lost their glasses...

with singular-they.

But I've also faced situations where people say:

somebody lost her glasses

...independently of knowing somebody's gender.

Is this correct?


Firstly "their" and "they" can be singular or plural. Context should determine which it is, and when talking about a single pair of glasses it should be clear that there is only one owner.

Regarding your question of whether it is correct to assume female gender - this is unusual as historically the masculine gender has been the default when speaking about an unidentified person. Cultural changes mean this may be on the decline, but most will agree this is the norm at least for now.

I can only assume if a person used the female gender to describe the unidentified owner of a lost pair of glasses that the style or design of the glasses was in some way feminine!

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  • 1
    I think it's long since ceased to be the norm, actually. Generic he is now noticeably gendered to most speakers. – snailplane Feb 21 '18 at 15:11
  • @snailplane An answer I wrote on a different site touched on this subject and sparked similar discussion. I don't wish to be dogmatic, but I believe it IS still the norm, rightly or wrongly. For every reasoned argument trying to address a serious equality issue there are a thousand girls on YouTube saying "HI GUYS!!" while introducing a video on how to put on girl's makeup. Who knows where language will go in the future, but right now you will encounter the masculine gender as default more often than you don't. – Astralbee Feb 21 '18 at 15:20
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    @Astralbee guys isn't the same as he. Guys has become a pretty gender neutral phrase for a group of friends. Whereas He is becoming less gender neutral as people make an effort to stop the world being all about men. To stop male being the default. So the speaker about the glasses could just be a person trying to correct this bias. – WendyG Feb 21 '18 at 16:17
  • In speech, almost nobody defaults to male anymore. Even those who claim to advocate against singular-they for prescriptive reasons will often use it in speech in these contexts without thinking. In writing, some have begun using singular they while others either use he/she or (at least in some books I've read) alternate between using "he" for one chapter and "she" for the next so as not to appear sexist. – Sparksbet Feb 23 '18 at 4:33
  • @Sparksbet My answer notes and emphasises that this is historically the case, and is in the answer to explain why some may default to masculine (as you say, "almost" nobody), whearas there is almost no historical precedent for defaulting to the feminine in English. To be honest though, I've only written it this way to avoid flames - I strongly disagree with you that most have dropped the practice (but don't disagree with dropping it!) It IS still used more often than not, based on my experience in real-life, not just the dark corners of the internet. – Astralbee Feb 23 '18 at 9:19

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