Hello everyone.

Think you don't know the name and gender of a person.

What should we write?

Let's see this example: Yesterday someone on internet helped me to write a better letter, but unfortunately, I forgot ....... name.

What we should write in ......? His or her name/Its name

I know we can say" the name of that person" but I want to check those options. Can I use Its in these situation? Is it Polite?


2 Answers 2


Traditionally in English -- as in many other languages -- when you don't know the gender of a person, or you are referring to some generic person who could be either gender, you say "he" (or whatever form is appropriate). "I forget his name."

Some today consider this sexist and demeaning to women, and so use other words.

There is the practical problem that it can be unclear whether you mean that the person was or must be male, or that you are leaving the gender unspecified.

No, you cannot use "it". "It" refers to inanimate objects, not people. It would be confusing at best and insulting at worst.

Some use the "singular they". That is, they write, "... I forget their name". The catch to this is that, just as using "he" can create ambiguity whether you mean "male" or "unspecified", so "they" can create ambiguity whether you mean singular or plural. For example, if I said, "Every mechanic is required to clean his tools after work", clearly I mean that each mechanic is responsible for his own tools. But if I say, "The mechanics are required to clean their tools after work", now it is not clear whether I mean that each mechanic is responsible for his (or her) own tools, or whether the mechanics as a group are responsible for all the tools.

Some say "he/she" to make clear that they mean either gender. "I forget his/her name." Possible, but it gets awkward fast. "He/she must write his/her name on his/her form, and then give it to the clerk who will submit it to his/her supervisor" etc.

Some have tried to invent new pronouns which can refer to someone of either gender. Like "xi/xem/xis" like one would use "he/him/his". The problem with this is that inventing a new word and getting people to use it is hard. It can work for the name of a new invention or a technical term. Like when the cell phone was invented, there was no name for such a device, so someone had to invent one, and "cell phone" and "mobile phone" seem to have caught on. But we already have pronouns. And to make it worse, we use pronouns all the time and in many contexts, heck, in almost EVERY context. You often use pronouns multiple times in one sentence. Reading a paragraph with newly-invented pronouns, they just jump out at the reader and are very distracting. Maybe, possibly, advocates of these new pronouns will succeed and at some point get "over the hump" so that readers see them as normal. But we are a long way from that now.

  • 1
    Thank you so much. That was the best answer❤ Jul 29, 2023 at 7:19
  • -1 this answer degenerates into an unecessary debate about preferred gender pronouns. It's very clear what your personal stance is but on an English language website this is unacceptable and uncalled for. Who has ever suggested that a neo-pronoun should be used whenever the gender (or sex) of a person is unknown? Please support your answer with relevant and pertinent references.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 30, 2023 at 0:53
  • @Mari-LouA Hmm. The question was what pronoun to use when the sex of the person is unknown. I don't know how to answer that except to discuss the available options. RE "who has ever suggested that a neo-pronoun should be used whenever the gender of a person is unknown" ... umm, that's what they're for. Are you suggesting that they only be used sometimes, and that other times some other convention should be used? You actually want a citation for this? Okay. How about, indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/…. ...
    – Jay
    Jul 30, 2023 at 5:10
  • ... Scroll down to "when might you use gender-neutral pronouns?" They suggest "when you don't know someone's pronouns and want to refer to them", "when you want to avoid specifying the gender of a person to whom you're referring", "when you're talking about a human in general", etc.
    – Jay
    Jul 30, 2023 at 5:12
  • And that gender neutral pronoun, NOT neopronoun, is they. If someone informs you of their preferred gender pronoun, then you should respect their choice and use those. These are two different things.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 30, 2023 at 6:39

No - it is treating the person as though they were a thing. Use they, them, their for a person of unspecified gender.

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