This post has two parts: (a) a question and (b) a proposal.

(a) Often, particularly while writing technical papers or user's manuals, I have come across a situation where I need to say:

A user of this software may not need to use it from his personal computer. He can use it from a phone or even from his tablet.

I have seen many authors use female pronouns (i.e. “she” and “her”), but lately this trend seems to have ebbed somewhat.

I, and (I suspect) many other authors, do not want to use passive voice to avoid this.

Is there a gender-neutral way to describe the same situation?

(b) If there is none, I would like to propose using “ze” (for “he” or “she”) and “zir” (for “his” or “her”, rhyming with “fir”) as gender-neutral pronouns. I want to know how you feel about these words.

  • 2
    Use the plural, "users". That would work better than making words up. A user's manual can address the user, and say "You". For example, "To save your work, click the Save button". Jan 29 '15 at 14:49
  • 1
    Singular they is a popular choice, and is easier to understand than made up words. In this case though I would go with TRomano's suggestion and use the plural. Either that or take the user out entirely. "The software need not be used from a personal computer. It can be used from a phone or even from a tablet."
    – ssav
    Jan 29 '15 at 14:58
  • 5
    @sm535 You're not the first to invent the words ze and zir. People have been making up gender neutral pronouns for over a hundred years. The only one in common use is singular they. 'The user of this software may not need to use it from their personal computer. They can use it from a phone or even from their tablet.'
    – ssav
    Jan 29 '15 at 15:24
  • 2
    Thanks everyone for the good discussion, particularly to @Tyler and TRomano.
    – sm535
    Jan 29 '15 at 15:26
  • 1
    I'd say "such an one hath erred most grievously". Jan 29 '15 at 18:45

You have at least three options. I will list these in reverse order of personal preference:

1. Pluralize

You’re talking about all your users, so you don’t need to single anyone out.

Users of this software do not have to use it from their personal computers. They can use it from (their) phones or even from (their) tablets.

2. Singular “they”/“their”

“They” has a long history of use referring to individuals. Relatively recently (in the grand scope of etymology) proscriptive people have railed against this usage, but this can be seen to fall along the same lines as Thou Shalt Not End Sentences With Prepositions which, as we all know, is nonsense, up with which we shall not put.

A user of this software does not have to use it from their personal computer. They can use it from their phone or even from their tablet.

3. Re-write

There are countless ways to communicate this information without passive voice or pronouns.

Users can access the software not only on personal computers, but on phones and tablets as well.

As for your proposal, it is not new. You are welcome to join the vanguard of radical gender-neutral writing, but for broad acceptance and minimized potential for confusion (such as I think you’ll want with a user manual) you are probably better off with one of the options above.

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