Pronouns are useful things. How awkward would it be never to use pronouns? We would have to use nouns all the time. The previous two sentences would not make sense if I didn’t use pronouns. Mary would have to refer to Mary in the third person all the time because Mary would not have a pronoun to use and would need to use Mary’s name all the time. The entire world would have to name the entire world in order to refer to the entire world’s possessions, like the entire world’s occupation of this planet. How much easier it is say with pronouns; we would have to name ourselves in order to refer to our possessions, like our occupation of this planet. It’s a much shorter sentence.
Of course, pronouns can lead to confusion. John asked Sam to get him a new ball when he went to the store. That can be a confusing sentence. Who is getting the ball? Who is going to the store? It is clear to me that John asked Sam to get John a new ball when Sam went to the store; but then, I wrote the sentence. I recognize that it has the potential to confuse as we can also read it as John asked Sam to get Sam a new ball when Sam went to the store. Why John would do that, we don’t know, but he could have had a reason to do that. The best way to avoid confusion is to write, John asked Sam to go to the store and get a new ball for him. This sentence structure is clearer in that the pronoun ‘him’ refers to John, the subject of the sentence. Pronouns can help us a lot and they can confuse us as much. Nowhere is this more evident than when we write about things where gender is either not known, or is not a factor.
For generations, we used the pronoun he to represent a genderless condition – in English, anyway – then someone thought that was a sexist portrayal. So everyone began using she for the genderless person of instruction manuals. Why that isn’t considered sexist, I have no idea. I’m given to understand that the problem is that the English language has no genderless pronoun. Except that it does. The word ‘it’ is completely genderless. Instead of a neutered he or she, we can say it. It is, it was, it would always be genderless. The trick is to remember to use it in place of ‘he’ or ‘she’ when we have no idea what gender we are referring to, something that is harder than you think. It is the unsung pronoun in a world of unsung pronouns.
Think about how we use pronouns. Instead of awkward sentences, like Sam asked Jill to go to the dance with Sam and Jill said yes. We say, or write, Sam asked Jill to go to the dance with him, and she said yes. Instead of having, ‘the writer has the writer’s choice of words to use in the writer’s work’. We can have ‘the writer has his choice of words to use in his work’. Alternatively, we can have ‘the writer has her choice of words to use in her work’. On the other hand, if we truly want genderless writing, we can have ‘the writer had its choice of words to use in its work’. So raise a glass to pronouns. They are more important than you think.