By John Borst PP  Rotary Club of Dryden, ON

The current post at the Rotary Service Connections blog is one of their “Ethical Dilemma Discussion: what would you do?” topics.

A prominent business leader recently joined your Rotary club. They run a global business, and their customers are primarily Rotary members. This new member doesn’t seem interested in club activities or service projects. Every year, your club selects members to send to the Rotary Convention, and your club’s leaderships (sic) selects this new member to attend as they think it will inspire them to get more involved within Rotary. The member mentions they plan to exhibit a booth promoting their business in the House of Friendship for the entire convention and don’t anticipate having time to attend general or breakout sessions. It seems the only reason this member joined Rotary is to grow their business.

The grammatical problem is the typical mixing of the singular and the plural to avoid gender bias or to be gender neutral.

The Oxford Dictionaries blog calls it the ‘He’, ‘he or she’, ‘he/she’, ‘s/he’, or ‘they.’ dilemma. Oxford’s lexicographers say “It’s a matter of being gender neutral: we thought it important to use language that includes both men and women.” It is called being “inclusive.”

That is obviously what the writers at Rotary Service Connections are doing. However, in this case, the switch between the singular and plural happens too often and becomes grating. Maybe even confusing. Grammarly finds no problem with it, however.

The pattern is

Sentence Tense
1 single
2 plural, plural
3 single
4 Single, plural
5 Single, plural, plural
6 single

In the short space of 114 words encompassing only six sentences, there are five instances of the single and five of the plural and the switch between the two occurs six times.

My suggestion is to write it in a gender-neutral fashion by introducing two members so that it reads:

Two prominent business leaders recently joined your Rotary club. They run a global business, and their customers are primarily Rotary members. These new members don’t seem interested in club activities or service projects. Every year, your club selects members to send to the Rotary Convention, and your club’s leadership selects these new members to attend as they think it will inspire them to get more involved within Rotary. The members mention they plan to exhibit a booth promoting their business in the House of Friendship for the entire convention and don’t anticipate having time to attend general or breakout sessions. It seems the only reason these members joined Rotary is to grow their business.

Language is a living organism, and this grammatical dilemma has a history that goes back centuries. So please chime in and share your thoughts.