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Possessive in English

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Jar-ptitsa
Triglot
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Belgium
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 Message 1 of 10
13 June 2009 at 5:09pm | IP Logged 
Hi

I've a question about the possessive in English: I understand and haven't problems to use his, her and their (I know they refer the owner, not the owned object, and I understand the m/f/pl).

The question is this, for example :

The person hold the book in _______ hands.

His / her /their ??????

(I think that it must not be: in the hands as well)


Thank you very much!!!!




Edited by Jar-ptitsa on 13 June 2009 at 5:19pm

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Alkeides
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 Message 2 of 10
13 June 2009 at 5:44pm | IP Logged 
In this sentence, any of the three can be put into the blank, although "their" is dubious.

He and she are of course used depending on whether "the person" is male or female while "their" is used by some as a gender-neutral pronoun if the speaker wishes to be ambiguous or isn't sure about the gender.

Also, it should be "holds".
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LanguageSponge
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 Message 3 of 10
13 June 2009 at 5:44pm | IP Logged 
Hi Jar-ptitsa,

In answer to what I think your question is, we can say the following:

The person holds the book in his (or her, depending on the gender of the person) hands.

Quote:
I've a question about the possessive in English: I understand and haven't problems [in] using his, her and their (I know they refer to the owner,[and] not the owned object, and I understand the m/f/pl).


Hope that answers your question. If I've misunderstood, then feel free to say!

EDIT: I agree with the above regarding "their". At first I was hesitant about mentioning it because of the ambiguity that using "their" would imply in this case.

Jack

Edited by LanguageSponge on 13 June 2009 at 5:46pm

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Jar-ptitsa
Triglot
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Belgium
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Speaks: French*, Dutch, German

 
 Message 4 of 10
14 June 2009 at 3:56pm | IP Logged 
Hi Alkeides and Language Sponge,

Thank you very much !!!!!!!!!!!!!

I don't know the gender of the person, it's hypothetical, and I want to write in the formal style. therefore it must be like this (?):

The person holds the book in their hands.

It seems wrong: singular and plural!!! If I would write: "in his hands" it's sexist, no? usually I wrote it like this "in his / her hands" but some people told me off (this forum) for use his/ her.

What an annoying problem! Dutch has the same one but I think that German (which wouodl have also) hasn't because you say : "in the hands" but if it's not connected at the body, it would be this problem, for example : "in his / her house" It's simpler in the languages, which make the possessive with the object owned because this gender is evident!!!




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Alkeides
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 Message 5 of 10
14 June 2009 at 5:30pm | IP Logged 
Using "their" in this context is informal actually. Perhaps you could elaborate on the nature of the text you are writing. If you're writing instructions you could use "One holds the book in one's hands." if you want to be absolutely gender-neutral without using "their" which is frowned upon by many people.

I think that's unnecessary personally, you could use "his" in this context just as well as a generic pronoun regardless of gender. People who disapprove of this are mostly feminists.

Greek also has a similar use for the definite article (the) for possession.

Edited by Alkeides on 14 June 2009 at 5:32pm

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Jiwon
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 Message 6 of 10
14 June 2009 at 5:35pm | IP Logged 
Unless the people who are reading your sentence are extreme-feminists, you won't run into much trouble for saying "his" hands. "They" has been used as a non-gender-specific 3rd person singular for a long time in history of English (even Shakespeare and Jane Austen used "they") but modern super-correctionism seems to be against the use of "they" for that purpose.

If you don't feel comfortable, you can always retreat to "his/her". That's how I avoid awkwardness. It sounds a bit wordy and unnatural, but doesn't lead to someone going: "That HE is a SHE".
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TheBiscuit
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 Message 7 of 10
14 June 2009 at 5:35pm | IP Logged 
Jar-ptitsa wrote:
I don't know the gender of the person, it's hypothetical, and I want to write in the formal style. therefore it must be like this (?):

The person holds the book in their hands.

It seems wrong: singular and plural!!! If I would write: "in his hands" it's sexist, no? usually I wrote it like this "in his / her hands" but some people told me off (this forum) for use his/ her.

Yes, it becomes somewhat cumbersome to keep writing/saying his/her so their is used as short of inventing another word, it's the best option. You could avoid it by saying just 'the person holds the book'. We'd probably assume from context that it was being held in his/her/their hands.

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LanguageSponge
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 Message 8 of 10
14 June 2009 at 5:38pm | IP Logged 
Hi,

You said above that it is a hypothetical situation, which means, then, that you are unsure of the gender. Alkeides said that it is common in English to use the word "their" if the gender of the person is unknown; this even holds when the actual subject of the sentence is in the singular. It may sound wrong (it even sounds wrong to me if I think about it for too long), but I believe it's right, and I say it like this a lot of the time.

I would say, however, that a lot of the doubt in my mind comes from using the noun "person" - we'd never be that vague in a real situation.

Quote:
It seems wrong: singular and plural!!! If I wrote/were to write: "in his hands", it's sexist, no/isn't it? Usually I write it like this: "in his / her hands", but some people told me off (on this forum) for using his/ her.

What an annoying problem! Dutch has the same one but I think that German (which would have also) hasn't because you say : "in the hands" but if it's not connected to the body,we'd once again have this problem , for example : "in his / her house" It's simpler in the languages which form the possessive with the object owned because this gender is evident!!!


I hope my attempted explanation above is helpful, and I hope you don't mind the corrections.

Jack




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