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Pronouns in D&D - How should gender be handled?

How should pronouns be handled in RPGs?

  • Use masculine pronouns generically.

    Votes: 36 34.0%
  • Alternate between masculine and feminine pronouns. (Explain how the pronouns should alternate.)

    Votes: 38 35.8%
  • Use 'they' as a generic pronoun.

    Votes: 21 19.8%
  • Try to avoid pronoun usage altogether.

    Votes: 4 3.8%
  • Something else. (Please explain below.)

    Votes: 7 6.6%

  • Total voters
    106

shadow

First Post
As part of my graduate sociolinguistics class, I am examining the question of pronoun usage in D&D. Most older D&D players will remember back to 1st and 2nd edition when the masculine pronoun (he, him, his) was used generically. However, when 3e was released both masculine and feminine pronouns were used with the gender of the pronoun dependent on the character being described. I remember the online debates provoked by this switch to both masculine and feminine pronouns. Some players felt that it was more inclusive to female gamers while others felt that it sounded awkward.

As part of my project, I'd like to hear your opinions on pronoun usage. The way I understand it there are 4 main strategies for handling pronouns.

1. The generic masculine. All generic pronouns are masculine with the assumption that female characters are included. (The traditional rule of English writing.)

2. Switching between masculine and feminine pronouns. There should be a balance between masculine and feminine pronouns, so some characters or situations should use a masculine pronoun and some should use a feminine pronoun. (For example, the DM would be described by a feminine pronoun whereas players would be described with masculine pronouns.)

3. Using 'they' as a generic. Even when the referent is a singular, 'they' is used as a pronoun.

4. Avoiding pronouns altogether. This may get a little tricky because English speakers generally find it unnatural to repeat the subject over and over without resorting to a pronoun.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on the matter.
 

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billd91

Hobbit on Quest
I like the way WotC and Paizo have switched between male and female pronouns based on the sex of the iconic character. I thought that was a pretty natural way to do it.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Just use each roughly equally. You don't need to count them or anything, or change in mid example.

Avoiding pronouns altogether is just silly; and using they can get awkward. "He" only, if it's a tradition, is a tradition we don't need.

That seems to be the standard way to do it these days, and it's just fine.
 

MJS

First Post
I vote "alternate" as well. But, I think pronouns should be avoided when possible for generics, like the DM, say:

The DM is final arbiter in his campaign.

The DM is final arbiter in THE campaign.

Knowing that pronouns will come up, though, I think they should, in those instances, alternate, with an eye towards sexism however.

Also, the neutral use of "they" where it flows right.
I vote for whatever works...
 

Masculine generically. Modern English developed to use pronouns that way. English doesn't really use neutral gender pronouns. It reads and sounds forced and awkward to me to attempt to alternate female with male without text referring to a specific female example. I don't have an issue with using plentiful female examples in a text, but if you want to re-educate the English-speaking world to adopt someone's idea of a more politically correct usage then I say that declaring D&D books as one of the battlegrounds is not the way to go about it.

If you want to forcibly shift the direction of the development of the language and the modern society that uses it then get all the worlds great English linguists together, let them agree on what the changes will be (if any) and why, and THEN start teaching it in the schools, and work for the incorporation of the changes in the things that THAT generation comes to read and write. However, leave the rest of us alone and stop picking at us for simply using the language in the way that we were taught was actually the correct way. Eventually enough of us will die out and the societal norm will have shifted and the master plan of re-education will succeed.

As for what the usage should be, I suggest:
masc fem neutr
Him Her Hup
His Hers Hups

Why? Because it's entirely made up new pronouns that future generations will be able to argue with because they were invented by a man and therefore biased. I just hope to live long enough to see that argument.
 

GSHamster

Adventurer
I like the way 3E used female pronouns most of the time. It was slightly unusual, but worked really well. I also thought that 3E had a comparatively larger number of female players than previous editions, so maybe this helped.

I am perfectly okay with sacrificing linguistic correctness to get more female players. Because then we'll end up in a virtuous cycle with more men willing to play, and so on.
 

Wicht

Adventurer
I generally prefer the generic masculine, as its more natural for English and creates less awkward readings.

If you must use both (for whatever reason) then the best method is to follow WotC and Paizo's pattern of using the gender of the iconic to determine the selection.
 


Janx

Hero
I generally prefer the generic masculine, as its more natural for English and creates less awkward readings.

If you must use both (for whatever reason) then the best method is to follow WotC and Paizo's pattern of using the gender of the iconic to determine the selection.

I don't know about saying "him" is natural for reading, it's just as natural to read "her" isn't it. Writing "they" is probably the worst.

Nowadays, we can't use "he" or "him" or "his" all the time because women did get shorted on all sorts of things, and continuing the usage in writing just exacerbates the situation.

So, even if we pretended that 100 years ago, only men went to the moon or played RPGs and thus such usage was "OK for back then", it's no longer true now.

So the best way to give credit and respect is to INCLUDE them in our writings about things they ARE active in.

So, alternating usage in examples is pretty much the de facto standard. Lidda likes her shortsword. Gronk likes his club.

Nice and tidy, and avoids sexism by exclusion.
 

1. The generic masculine. All generic pronouns are masculine with the assumption that female characters are included. (The traditional rule of English writing.)

This is what I prefer because it's proper writing and sounds the least awkward to me.


edit: Though, obviously, if the example character is not male, I support using the appropriate pronoun.



3. Using 'they' as a generic. Even when the referent is a singular, 'they' is used as a pronoun.

However, I understand that using "he" as a generic term is bothersome to some gamers. As such, I voted to use "they." It's gender neutral, so it implies neither male nor female during examples, and that seems to be the best way to be all-inclusive in all examples. In fact, I think there should be both a male iconic and a female iconic for each example; with the recent revelation that the art budget is large for D&D 5th Edition, I imagine doing so wouldn't break the bank. I also think it's much easier to proofread due to consistency if the same pronoun is always used.
 
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Wicht

Adventurer
I don't know about saying "him" is natural for reading, it's just as natural to read "her" isn't it.

Its natural to read "her" if the subject is inherently female. Its natural for me to understand the masculine pronoun to be capable of being used to apply to men and women equally, because that's the traditional mode of the english generic masculine. I understand the arguments for more inclusion, but logically, and for me, the generic pronoun is more inclusive than a specific pronoun. By eliminating the generic masculine, one eliminates the pronouns that are actually capable, in english, of being the most inclusive. The trend then becomes of using a generic plural, "they," to apply to singular figures, but I think that is no less clumsy in some instances.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I find the use of alternating pronouns to be distracting and silly. I also reject the argument that women stay out of gaming because they see 'he' used as a generic pronoun.

However, there is a good solution. Use concrete examples. Alternate between examples of fictional males and females in your examples of play. That way, 'he' or 'she' will be perfectly natural. Examples of play are given too little attention as it is.
 

Erekose

Eternal Champion
Alternating based on the gender of the icon for that class seems entirely reasonable. Was slightly odd when WotC first used it but then pretty much passed without notice for me.
 

I find the use of alternating pronouns to be distracting and silly. I also reject the argument that women stay out of gaming because they see 'he' used as a generic pronoun.

However, there is a good solution. Use concrete examples. Alternate between examples of fictional males and females in your examples of play. That way, 'he' or 'she' will be perfectly natural. Examples of play are given too little attention as it is.

I agree with this. It ties into why I suggested having iconics of both genders. That seems to be the best way to include everyone.

Having more examples is always nice too.
 

am181d

Adventurer
If you want to forcibly shift the direction of the development of the language and the modern society that uses it then get all the worlds great English linguists together, let them agree on what the changes will be (if any) and why, and THEN start teaching it in the schools, and work for the incorporation of the changes in the things that THAT generation comes to read and write.

That is not how language works. Linguists do not set the rules. They study what writers and speakers are already doing...
 

am181d

Adventurer
A few additional thoughts:

1: When the late William Saffire discussed this topic with the late Chief Justice Rehnquist (though not in specific regard to D&D), the Chief Justice's solution was to rewrite the sentence to use the third person plural they.

2: The third person singular they, while nonstandard, has been in use in the English for hundreds of years, appearing in the works of such famed writers as Shakespeare and Jane Austen. (Though only when writing for Pathfinder.)

3: The best long term solution would be to standardize third person singular they, but it's not the best solution for short term clarity. (Some readers will have trouble distinguishing the two uses of they and thus get their pluralizations wrong.)

4: Given that, the simplest, most reasonable solution is alternating genders by example. This may ALSO be confusing to readers, but in a socio-normative way rather than a grammatical way. The dude who is weirded out that a passage says "the player gets a +2 to her ride check" has learned a valuable lesson about what the world is like for non-dudes every day.

(Also, he gets a bonus to his ride check, so he should quit whining.)
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Alternatively, rules could only apply to players of the gender used in a given example....

Alternatively we could switch to something 'traditional' for those who prefer their language to remain in a static tradition. Thee, thou, yon, ye, and so on.
 
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Ahnehnois

First Post
Well, the English language could really use a gender neutral pronoun. Failing that, I generally try to keep pronoun usage to a minimum in my writing when referring to unspecified or hypothetical individuals.

In D&D, it sometimes makes sense to use specific characters as examples, in which case maintaining a gender balance is a wise idea.
 

The 3e model (also used by Pathfinder) is the best - provide an iconic character for each class, and then alternate based on the iconic being referenced at the time.

Honestly, I'm surprised this is even a discussion. Do we really believe WotC would even consider going back to all-masculine pronoun use? Rightly or wrongly, that ship has sailed.
 


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