I have confusions about a single sentence

The pedagogical view is that the pre-school phase is crucial to stimulate a child’s curiosity and help her prepare for schooling at age six.

Can her be used for a child?

Usually I find at the age of 6 but in the above sentence at age six is used I have never heard or read it. Is this used correctly above?

  • 2
    I can't closevote because of the (misguided?) bounty, but imho this is a duplicate of Use of “she” for a general person in a scientific paper and Can I omit part of the sentence 'age of'? Commented Jun 17, 2019 at 16:33
  • The authors should have edited that or been edited: The pedagogical view is that the pre-school phase is crucial to stimulate children’s curiosity and help them prepare for schooling at age six.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 17:46
  • As I'm from the UK, assuming that this should refer to all sexes, I would advocate usage of the non-gender (singular) 'them' instead of 'her'
    – Smock
    Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 10:37

3 Answers 3


This is an example of the very common problem of how to refer to people of unknown or irrelevant sex. Native speakers disagree, often very strongly, about the best way to deal with this. Many native speakers do not even agree there is an issue to be addressed.

Historically, prescriptive grammarians tended to give "he" as the "correct" way to describe a person of indeterminate sex. With the rise of both descriptive linguistics and feminism, many sought ungendered language, and specifically looked at pronouns. Some writers chose to use "she" as a mirroring of the prescriptive tradition. Others sought very many other ways out of the difficulty.

A good reference for the issue is The Nonsexist Word Finder: A Dictionary of Gender-Free Usage, Rosalie Maggio, Beacon Press (1989). ISBN 0807060011.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives, amongst many other usages:

her, pron.2 and n.2 2. b. In anaphoric reference to a singular noun or pronoun of undetermined gender. Cf. she pron.1 2b. Early examples are found in contexts (e.g. teaching) in which typical representatives of the class are women; subsequently in feminist use, in reaction to the use of him (see him pron. 2b), but now in wider use.
1998 J. R. Harris Nurture Assumption 318 These are the kid's friends and she will see them whether they want her to or not

I tried to give a comprehensive list of the alternatives seen for non-gender-specific pronouns, with explanations and examples intended for learners, at my answer to Use of "she" for a general person in a scientific paper which includes

  • he
  • she
  • it (normally only babies)
  • he or she
  • s/he (s)he she/he he/she
  • they (as plural)
  • they (as singular)
  • You
  • One
  • and many others (example people Alice and Bob, avoid pronouns, algebraic X)
  • footnote saying "Where the context so requires, the use of the masculine gender shall include the feminine and/or neuter genders and the singular shall include the plural, and vice versa" (Normally only in legal documents, source)

Each of these has very vocal support and criticism for the many and varied circumstances.

Your example

Your particular example clearly means "... help the child prepare ...", and as noted in other answers, might easily have been written in the plural "children's ... help them prepare ...".

It's worth noting that The Hindu online often has subediting errors and other effects of being produced at speed.

At age six is a completely ordinary phrase, very common when discussing development or education.

  • New York Times: "Behavior at Age 6 May Predict Adult Income"
  • Science Daily: "Starting at age 6, children spontaneously practice skills to prepare for the future"
  • Parents magazine: "Children at age 6 are in the latter phases of Piaget’s preoperational period, the time during which children learn to use language"
  • @piyushyadav this should be the selected answer. Commented Jun 17, 2019 at 23:05
  • This answer has the merit of explaining this issue over time: he, first, then, her. The main way out of the difficulty is to use the plural.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 17:58

The straightforward answers to your questions are: Yes, "her" can be used for a child (especially in text that attempts to neutralize gender assumptions), and yes, "at age six" can be used instead of "at the age of six", although it is somewhat less formal.

However, I am not sure these answers are relevant in this context...

The quoted text is from an editorial article in a web site titled "The Hindu". I am not familiar with this site, but the editorial is written in a style that is not too fluent and seems like unnatural language.

Edit following comments: I am informed now that "The Hindu" is a well-known Indian newspaper. The language that seems unnatural to me may be more natural in Indian English, but may also be be specific to this article. Comments on this are welcome.

I suspect (without knowing the web site) that this is a translation from another language (Hindi?), and would not be surprised if the word "child" is in the feminine gender in the original text...

Edit following comments: Apparently my guess above was incorrect, and "child" is masculine in Hindi. The usage of "her" should then be attributed to either an editorial error, or to an attempt at being gender-neutral (as I noted below, there are better ways to achieve that goal).

A more natural and gender-neutral way of expressing the same idea would be

The pedagogical view is that the pre-school phase is crucial to stimulate children's curiosity and help them prepare for entering school at the age of six.

  • 4
    I would add that the differences may also be from the author having a co-native language of Indian English which has marked differences from American English and British English.
    – katatahito
    Commented Jun 17, 2019 at 11:57
  • 1
    The Hindu is a major English-language newspaper and news site in India, comparable to the New York Times in the US, or the London Times in the UK. It will, of course, use Indian English. Like any newspaper, it tends to be prepared under pressure and editing errors do happen. Commented Jun 17, 2019 at 16:14
  • hindilanguage.info says "Hindi nouns have two grammatical genders: masculine and feminine. There is no neuter gender in Hindi." According to hindi-english.org, "baby", "child", "infant" are all masculine, but I'd be very interested if a native speaker of Hindi could comment on the idea of "feminine word in Hindi".
    – jonathanjo
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 18:20
  • Thanks to all commenters. I updated the answer according to your comments. Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 21:54

According to information I read on the UWM.edu website, English is one of the languages that does not contain a gender neutral or third gender pronouns for referring to a "generic individual". However, it is possible to accomplish despite the supposed potential limitations, if one takes time to be more specific in their neutrality as you'll see an example of in the second to last sentence of the paragraph following this one.

The sentence posted is an example of pronoun usage typically seen in periodicals over the last 30 years or so (perhaps longer), where he or she are used to denote a masculine or feminine singular form of they, their, and them at the author's discretion. Nowadays, in a sentence like the one posted, some writers are mindful of using more non-gender specific discriptors like "a child" or "a child's", and "your child" or "your child's" for neutrality. Anecdotally speaking, I've always used a less gender-specific method of phrasing when referring to "generic individuals" while writing certain essays unless of course, what I wrote required me to be gender specific.

Regarding "at the age of ..." vs "at age...", the following link headings are being used online for quiznet.com and pbs.com:

  • By age 6, an average child is? Flashcards | Quizlet
  • Writing at Age 6 | Social & Emotional Growth
  • Empathy at Age 6 | Social & Emotional Growth

When I did an initial online search, the very first link in reference to this question is ironically from english.stackexchange.com by cacahootie explaining that both "at the age of..." and "at age ..." are equally valid to which, I agree. One sounds more technical and formal while the other sounds more relaxed and direct. It's a matter of preference. So far, that's all I could find. Will take a look at some of my college and high school text books and edit my answer to provide an update with a legitimate grammar rule regarding this...if one exists.

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