Supposedly, I left grammar behind a long time ago, back on one of those ragged tables in Alderman Library at the University of Virginia, where I (successfully, I believe) majored in English.
Except that you live your life twice -- at least twice. Once on your own, and once through your children. And if you are lucky to live long enough and to be close enough to them, again through your grandchildren.
All of which is to say that my kids are learning grammar, and so I am reliving it. And I like it. Grammar can be boring, sure, but there is power in knowing how a sentence is put together and what the function of every word in it is (and yes, I used to know that). And there is freedom as well.
Freedom you say? What, are you mad? Yes, friend, freedom. Because the better I know grammar the easier it is for me to know what my choices are, as a sentence uncoils across a computer screen under the urging of my fingerpecks. When you know what is right and what is wrong, it is easier to say things with confidence.
But there remains, even after all the intervening years since my last visit to the grammar bar, an unending problem in English writing -- he or she. As in, when you speak of an individual in the third person whose gender is nonspecific, do you say he or she? Or he or she or they, or even he/she or s/he?
1. Every student must make his own presentation.
2. Every student must make her own presentation.
3. Every student must make his or her own presentation.
4. Every student must make his/her own presentation.
5. Every student must make their own presentation.
Let's sort this out. We have 5 options, all told.
First, option 4 is out. I don't like slashes in sentences for many reasons. It feels disruptive and brings attention to itself. Besides, it makes reading aloud sound ridiculous. (Go ahead, pronounce s/he.)
I don't like option 3. It adds two words to the sentence that add no additional meaning. I will give you that a feminist might want the female gender to be included in all generalities. But not at the cost of making a sentence unwieldy.
Option 5 is also unattractive. You have a singular subject and a plural possessive pronoun referring to it. While this is perfectly intelligible (and common in spoken language), it can lead to grammatical hell. As you go forward, do you stick with the singular or pleural, or make a mess of it?
Every student must make their own presentation. Their (his/her?) assigned times (time?) are (is?) posted in the hallway.
Mixing genders and numbers can lead to one problem after another.
That leaves us with options 1 and 2, both of which seem perfectly acceptable. But which one? I perfectly hate Stephen Pinker's solution in A Sense of Style, which is to flip a coin and then alternate genders in each chapter. First of all, not all works are that long, so alternation may not be possible, and second, the reader may notice that you are alternating genders, which calls attention to an issue that really is secondary to the substance of the material the writer is trying to get across.
What I like is for each writer to use his own gender. So I, a male, always use he, and a woman will always use she. This, if followed, also conveys the information that the writer is a man or a woman, which could be worth knowing. However, if a woman wants to use he or a man wants to use she, so be it, but don't switch. Once you decide, consider it to be like your middle name. Always present, never changing, but mostly tucked away and unobtrusive, a silent decision made long ago.