2nd person as a generalisation

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Woods
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2nd person as a generalisation

Postby Woods » 2020-02-19, 11:02

How common is 2nd person singular as a generalisation in English?

When you come out of this place, you usually smell like food.
meaning:
When one comes out of this place, they usually smell like food.

The second option sounds kind of formal, doesn't it? Is the first one the most natural way to say it?

Also does "they" fit in the second sentence, or should it be replaced by another "one" as the subject of the main clause?

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Re: 2nd person as a generalisation

Postby Dormouse559 » 2020-02-19, 16:21

Woods wrote:How common is 2nd person singular as a generalisation in English?

Quite. You can find a lot of information by searching "generic you".

Woods wrote:The second option sounds kind of formal, doesn't it?

It's getting there. In a formal context, you'd get dinged for using singular they. As you suggested, it should be replaced by "one".

Woods wrote:Is the first one the most natural way to say it?

Yeah
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Re: 2nd person as a generalisation

Postby Woods » 2020-02-19, 18:50

Okay, quite clear - thanks :)

Dormouse559 wrote:In a formal context, you'd get dinged for using singular they.

Really? It's my default in every context - is it that bad?

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Re: 2nd person as a generalisation

Postby Dormouse559 » 2020-02-19, 19:16

Woods wrote:Really? It's my default in every context - is it that bad?

"Bad" is a strong word. The language is headed toward singular they as a universally accepted usage, so it might not be long until you can "they" as you please. But for now, in a lot of formal situations, it is still considered an error.

In your example sentence, I also think "one" should be used both times because it's jarring to suddenly switch the pronoun you use for a single referent. Part of me interprets the "one … they …" version as referring to two different people or groups of people.
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Re: 2nd person as a generalisation

Postby linguoboy » 2020-02-19, 19:25

Dormouse559 wrote:In your example sentence, I also think "one" should be used both times because it's jarring to suddenly switch the pronoun you use for a single referent.

Seconded.

On the other hand, repeated use of "one" can end up sounding ridiculous, as when a college acquaintance of mine (a non-native speaker) apologised for cancelling an appointment by saying "One should check one's calendar before making an appointment, shouldn't one?" and I nearly fell off my chair laughing.
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Re: 2nd person as a generalisation

Postby Woods » 2020-02-20, 10:06

Dormouse559 wrote:"Bad" is a strong word. The language is headed toward singular they as a universally accepted usage, so it might not be long until you can "they" as you please. But for now, in a lot of formal situations, it is still considered an error.

So what's the alternative?

I was first taught that he meaning he or she was not feminist enough, and writing he/she or he or she sounds like too much words for nothing. Which one should be used and where is the limit between formal and informal contexts, i.e. from where on should I go he or she instead of they?

As of my personal taste, I really like how they gives me the option not to make a reference to whether I'm talking about a male or a female when writing, and then if I want to point it out I just switch to he or she. I have probably used they more than anyone, and very rarely he or she when I've wanted to be extremely formal.

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Re: 2nd person as a generalisation

Postby Dormouse559 » 2020-02-21, 0:34

I largely agree with the things you've said above, but I'm not the one correcting papers or writing style guides. Anyway, most everyone will get there eventually, just not yet.

Woods wrote:So what's the alternative?

Well, "he or she", "he/she". I've occasionally come across the concepts of using one's own gender pronoun or alternating between "he" and "she". You can also restate the noun, though that risks sounding repetitive. The strategy that most people seem to agree on is rephrasing the sentence if possible to avoid having to make the choice at all. That could mean making the referent plural, for example.

Woods wrote:where is the limit between formal and informal contexts, i.e. from where on should I go he or she instead of they?

There's not a single, neat answer to this question. As I described, the consensus on singular they is in flux.

The Associated Press, which publishes a style guide used by a lot of U.S. news outlets, changed its guidance a few years ago to allow singular they "when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy", but it strongly encourages rewording (link). The MLA style guide, commonly used in academic writing, does not use singular they, preferring rephrasing, or alternatively "he or she" (link). Both allow "they" when it is a person's gender pronoun (though AP specifically disallows neologistic pronouns like xe, while MLA implies they are acceptable).

And that's just two specialized authorities on usage. I don't know what contexts you use English in.
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