Example with a context:

In the United States, stand-your-ground law is a law that authorizes a person to protect and defend one's own life and limb against threat or perceived threat, and states that an individual has no duty to retreat from any place he/she has a lawful right to be and may use any level of force, including lethal, if he/she reasonably believe he/she face an imminent and immediate threat of serious bodily harm or death; as opposed to Duty to Retreat laws.

This is the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article on stand-your-ground law. The grammar looks rather strange. Do you think that kind of grammar is possible?

  • 5
    I suspect that what has happened here is that this originally had gender-neutral they, and this was later changed it to he/she without correcting the verbs. In any case, it's just a mistake. Mar 23, 2015 at 13:31

1 Answer 1


It's wrong. @StoneyB is probably right.

Third person regular singular verbs end in "s" or "es".

English does not have a strong, official gender-neutral third person pronoun other than it, which is impersonal - it's inappropriate to use it when referring to a person.

So things like this are needed.

He or she believes that ...

He/she believes that ...

"He or she" is not treated as plural.

However - you'll probably hear this in informal speech quite a bit - if the antecedent is a person but of unknown gender, many will use they/them. This is treated as plural like any other use of they, even though it refers to one person. It's not really considered proper English but I hear it a lot (but don't really read it a lot).

So to get your driver's license you have to pay the fee to the clerk.

Do they take debit cards or only cash?

  • 1
    Using they as a singular instead of something like he/she is actually a well-established thing though, as Wikipedia says, "acceptance varies". I wouldn't call it incorrect or improper.
    – Tim S.
    Mar 23, 2015 at 16:13

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