Published: 15th May 2021
English Blues: Here are a few grammar rules that we can now violate, find out how
In Modern English, the plural pronoun ‘their’ can be used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun instead of ‘he/she’ and ‘they’ can be used to represent a singular antecedent that is gender-neutral
Husband: I have a question. Why did the chicken cross the road?
Wife: Because the chicken behind it didn’t know how to socially distance properly.
Is it okay to say ‘how to socially distance properly’? Yes, it is perfectly correct. The phrase ‘to socially distance’ is an example of a cleft infinitive or split infinitive. A cleft infinitive is a grammatical construction in which a word or phrase is placed between the particle ‘to’ and the infinitive that comprises a to-infinitive. In the example above, the modifier ‘socially’ is placed between the particle ‘to’ and the verb ‘distance’. Old-fashioned grammarians say that it is wrong to split infinitives but modern grammar experts agree that cleft infinitives are acceptable. Henry Alford in his 1864 book The Queen’s English states that split infinitives should be avoided. Modern style guides do not speak out against cleft infinitives but advise writers to avoid awkward construction that might confuse the reader. Split infinitives are very common in spoken and informal English. Here are examples:
I think everyone is free today. This evening is the best time to finally go to the beach.
Jane called me a few minutes ago. She only wants to quickly talk to you.
It is common to use cleft infinitive phrases in informal conversational English. Examples:
to warmly welcome
to suddenly notice
Let’s move on to another aspect of grammar called ‘singular they’. In Modern English, the plural pronoun ‘their’ can be used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun instead of ‘he/she’ and ‘they’ can be used to represent a singular antecedent that is gender-neutral and indefinite (for example, someone, no one, anyone or a person). Gender-neutral pronouns do not specify whether the subject of the sentence is male or female. Here is a list of such pronouns: they, them, themself, their, theirs.
Look at these examples:
Any candidate who wants to meet the Director should submit their (instead of ‘his/her’)
I think someone is waiting outside. They want to meet me. I’ll talk to them for a few minutes.
Let’s move on to gender-neutral occupation words. Actor or actress? Look at the sentences below:
Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut has tested positive for COVID-19. The actor shared her health update on social media along with a long note.
Thalaivi actress Kangana Ranaut tests positive for COVID-19
The term ‘actress’ is outdated. Feminists and those who believe in equality say that it is not politically correct to use the word ‘actress’. If there is a distinction to be made, the terms ‘male actor’ and ‘female actor’ can be used. Ask any female actor whether she likes to be described as an actress. ‘No’ will be her reply as she thinks it is an offensive term. Here are other politically incorrect terms: authoress, comedienne, manageress. Avoid using such terms and be politically correct.