Can You Use His Or Her In Formal Essays?

The primary priority when writing a formal or an academic essay is to avoid any type of plagiarism. Next to this is the concern on language. Academic essays demand strictly formal language, which is the subject of debate because the rules of language are ever-evolving. One of the trickiest questions when it comes to formal essay language is: can you use his or her in formal essays?

List of personal pronouns

Can I use his or her in formal essays?

Let us answer the question right off the bat. The answer is yes, but only to a certain extent. There are instances in a research paper when you need to refer to another researcher’s work multiple times. The essay would be disjointed and sound awkward if you kept repeating the researcher’s name or the words “the researcher.” This type of problem is what pronouns are for, so why not use them, right? So, yes, you may use his or her in a formal essay, especially when referring to other researchers. 

What cannot definitely be used in formal essays are first-person and second-person pronouns. First-person pronouns are I, me, we, us, my, mine, and our. Second-person pronouns include you, your, and yours. The reason for this is because first-person and second-person pronouns allow a hint of opinion. Opinions in an academic paper is a slippery slope. This is a big no-no in academic writing because the academe values objectivity. Opinions must be limited and justified in a formal essay or in an academic paper. This is true especially for topics that require objectivity.

Is there an alternative?

Now that we have established that first-person and second-person pronouns cannot be used in formal essays, while third-person pronouns (i.e. he, him, his, himself, she, her, herself, it, its, itself, they, them, their, and themselves) may be used when necessary, you must be looking for an alternative to these pronouns. After all, there is no guarantee that you will not refer to another person, or even to yourself, in a formal essay. Here are some tricks you can do in place of using personal pronouns: 

  • You may refer to yourself as “the author” or “the researcher/s.”
  • You may refer to another researcher using their full name or surname.
  • In place of a second-person pronoun, you may use “one.”

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