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What if the full sentence has a possessive pronoun in it and you have to ask the question with who? For example:

--> Alex is eating his lunch.

Would the question be "Who is eating his lunch?", would it be "Who is eating their lunch?", or would it be something else. Since we don't know the answer when we write the question, I don't think it is logical to assume the subject of the sentence is a male or a female, but their is plural and we don't know if the subject is plural either.

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  • "Possessive pronouns" are pronouns that indicate ownership, such as "mine" and "theirs". I don't see a possessive pronoun in your sentence.
    – Eddie Kal
    Oct 13, 2019 at 12:14
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    @EddieKal "Their" in "who is eating their lunch" is possessive. Same for "his lunch."
    – TypeIA
    Oct 14, 2019 at 7:04
  • @TypeIA The grammatical distinction between possessive pronouns and possessive determiners being blurry notwithstanding, my point wasn't about the possessive part, but rather that what is in OP's example sentence could be more aptly called a "possessive adjective" or "possessive determiner".
    – Eddie Kal
    Oct 17, 2019 at 17:41
  • @EddieKal I see now. I wasn't aware of that distinction and I bet the OP wasn't either. It's good to know, so thank you for the clarification. I don't think it has significant bearing on the question or answer though (not that you ever said it did). I have edited my answer to use the correct terminology.
    – TypeIA
    Oct 17, 2019 at 18:29

1 Answer 1

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It is acceptable and common to use "they" (and derivatives like possessive "their") as gender-neutral pronouns and determiners:

Who is eating their lunch?

Some writers prefer to avoid pronouns and determiners altogether where possible in unknown-gender cases. You could simply write:

Who is eating lunch?

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    But if you know that the lunch belongs to (someone who identifies as) a male, there is no reason why you can't be specific, and say his lunch. This is especially true if the person eating the lunch is not the person to whom the lunch belongs. And while you may not know the name of the person doing the eating, it's still possible that you know they are male. (But if it's really the case that you don't know the gender at all, then this answer is correct.) Oct 14, 2019 at 6:35

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