September 8th, 2004
He when it means she / proven vs. proved
by Barbara Wallraff
Yolanda Thomas, of Harper Woods, Mich., writes: “I disagree with your response, in a recent column, to a woman who asked for a third-person-singular pronoun to refer to people of unknown gender. We have one: It is ‘he.’ An example: ‘He who hesitates is lost.’ A similar thing has happened to ‘man.’ ‘Man’ has as its secondary sense ‘any adult person.’ An example: ‘Man does not live by bread alone.’
Dear Yolanda: I used to share your view that “he” and “man” can refer neutrally to any person. Then one day about 15 years ago I taught a session of a summer program for college graduates who wanted to work in publishing. I told the class something like what you just told me: I’d been brought up believing that “he” could mean me, and I didn’t feel excluded by the word. Several students -- young men as well as women -- stood up and angrily denounced me. That’s when I realized that this battle has been lost.
Brad Bolender, of Iowa City, Iowa, writes: “It seems that the words ‘proved’ and ‘proven’ are both correct in certain contexts. Can you tell me when to use each of them?”
Dear Brad: You bet. When the word comes before a noun, use “proven”: “a proven formula.” Also use “proven” in the legal phrase “innocent until proven guilty.” Anywhere else where you’re not sure which to use, use “proved.” “We were proved right.” “Has he proved his point?” In contexts like these, “proved” is traditional. People may object if you use “proven” instead, but nobody should find fault with “proved.”
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.