Don't use it at all. There is a reason we have distinct pronouns, and that is so we can be specific. R.L.G. noted in the headline of his post, we all have our opinions on this issue. The singular “they” is widely used and accepted in Britain, Australia, and North America in conversation and, often, in at least informal writing as well”. It’s succinct and it’s professional. Let's talk about the "singular" they. That's when a writer or a speaker — a he or a she — is discussing someone who might be either a he or a she (it's unknown, or the writer doesn't intend to make a subject or object gender-specific and instead hopes to convey a universality of personhood). Or ask them what they make of this example, inspired by Geoff Pullum: ‘After the working day is done, every member of Emphasis goes home and kicks off his brogues or stilettos.’ (See the problem? The singular they is ear-hurting, eye-burning, soul-ravaging, mind-numbing syntactic folly. There is criticism that the use of he as the generic pronoun is an example of linguistic sexism of a sort, and I agree there's no need to always use he as the default if you don't know the gender of the person about whom you are speaking, or if you're using the pronoun to stand for persons of either gender. The misused word is everywhere, proliferating like fruit flies 'round a bowl of rotting bananas. No one at Emphasis wears stilettos – not even the men.). That choice is ‘Kind regards’. In fact, outside social media singular they is not even a thing. High-impact business writing Pronouns indicate the gender of a person; traditionally, he refers to males while she refers to females. Emphasis is the UK’s leading business- writing training company, offering specialist business-writing training and consultancy services to private and public sector organisations all over the world. They is also a singular pronoun, and it has been for centuries. We must stop it before it goes too far. Maybe even create a new word, and make it happen! People who use they/them pronouns are usually people who don’t identify as men or as women, and who want their gender to be noted when other people refer to them with pronouns. These all make me cringe, but it's a usage that has a fair number of supporters. Being one of that determined minority, I disagree. Use one. The singular “they” works similarly to the singular “you”—even though “you” may refer to one person or multiple people, in a scholarly paper you should write “you are,” not “you is.” However, if the noun in one sentence is a word like “individual” or a person’s name, use a singular verb. But I see absolutely no reason other than laziness to start subbing our hes and shes with a clunky they, or our hises and hers with theirs. The reason for this is that although such words are technically singular, they carry the sense of the plural ­– of multiple people. And attempts to invent gender-free pronouns – for example e, thon, xe and ze – have never caught on (though does anyone else feel like they’ve seen them in an episode of Doctor Who?). In a post on The Economist's Grammar blog, R.L.G. Forced changes on language don’t work without a repression machine. So […]. The singular they refers to someone whose gender is unknown, when gender is not relevant to a conversation, or to obfuscate someone’s gender. Further, "that still doesn't prove singular they ungrammatical," he writes, concluding, along with deBoer and Bryan Garner, that the singular they is "the most convenient solution" to all of our pronoun trouble. We know this already, but it bears repeating: The easy fix is not necessarily the best one, and they is not the solution to our pronoun ills. However (and it pains us to say it), it’s worth being aware that there are still strong opponents to singular they and you don’t want to lose your reader because they’re busily fuming over your supposed grammatical error. You can just as easily swap in a she; mix it up! It’s pretty clear that using they in this way is sensible and practical, and supported by history and logic. So here are […], When you’ve finished an email, all you need is a friendly, professional sign off. So instead of writing, say, he or she did x or y, the writer uses they. Common pronouns include they/them/theirs, she/her/hers, and he/him/his. A caveat or suggestion: "Use singular they in relaxed prose, when you know you're in the company of those who get this right, or if you don't mind annoying a determined and vocal minority.". But why must we accept their as a singular? And singular they is typically used to refer to a noun that could be either gender (such as client, person or student), or to an … Singular they is the use of they, their or them (plural pronouns) with a singular antecedent (the word the they, their or them refers back to). If necessary, you could probably rephrase, use you (though this won’t always be appropriate) or one (though it’s peculiarly British and is increasingly seen as old-fashioned and stuffy). He adds that not only is the usage "very unlikely" to produce confusion, but also, it's "nearly literally impossible for singular they to be confusing in an actual conversation or in a longer piece of writing." If a word sounds like it's landing with a horrid thump in your ear, it's landing that way to at least some of your readers. As “they/them” singular pronouns grow in relevance, I hope to see a larger cultural shift in accepting them. ", "Someone who is concerned about his mental health should seek professional help.". I'm all for a certain flexibility and adaptive ease with regard to language and how we use it. And as we lack a satisfying alternative, the usage is likely to persist. Let's talk about the "singular" they. Yet it’s a useful construction that most people use naturally in everyday speech. Effective email writing The second plural became a generic second person, but plural form of the verb was kept, which is what one would expect to happen. But as R.L.G. After thou disappeared, you took its place as the singular second person pronoun – but kept its plural trappings (you say you are, even in the singular, not you is). Lexicographers have determined that as far back as the 1300s, they and its related forms have been used to refer to an indefinite referent—that is, an unspecified, unknown person. And singular they is typically used to refer to a noun that could be either gender (such as client, person or student), or to an indefinite pronoun (anyone, someone, nobody, and so on). For example, a 2008 amendment to the Canadian Criminal Code contains the following text: It's everywhere, proliferating like fruit flies 'round a bowl of rotting bananas, bad writing surrounding bad writing. "Singular they is the use in English of the pronoun they or its inflected or derivative forms, them, their, theirs, and themselves (or themself). It’s not natural, and therefore it won’t happen. Just be grateful that we’re not french, where ‘they’ has both a masculine & feminine form! "People who are concerned about their mental health should seek professional help. They might have you rewrite it like so: Everyone at Emphasis took great pride in keeping his desk neat. Some examples: "If someone is concerned about their mental health, they should seek professional help. Grammar and punctuation Singular they is the use in English of the pronoun they or its inflected or derivative forms, them, their, theirs, and themselves (or themself), as an epicene (gender-neutral) singular pronoun. Technical writing course, Browse our online courses for individuals. The singular “they” is a generic third-person singular pronoun in English. Mignon Fogarty (otherwise known as Grammar Girl) makes the great point that if you’re writing for a particular company, it’s wise to check if they have a style guide that will clue you in to their view on this. Make it fun! ", "If a person decides they like dubstep, that's really their prerogative. This article is from the archive of our partner . I say no. Use a person's name. Often it’s the wording that torments you, or uncertainty about the grammar and punctuation. But sometimes, it’s email itself that’s the problem. It also has some pretty impressive allies, including Chaucer (‘And whoso fyndeth hym out of swich blame,/They wol come up’), Austen (‘I would have every body marry if they can do it properly’), and Shakespeare (‘And every one to rest themselves betake’). I'm happy to add three exclamation points to a sentence or write in ALL CAPS when it seems to fit the moment, especially online. Keep people on their toes! If we don't know the specifics, we should try to find them out, or use one of those handy words — he or she or one, for instance — that get around the they problem. There is a reason we have distinct pronouns, and that is so we can be specific. How can … Catie joined Emphasis in 2008 with an English literature and creative writing degree under her belt. ", "What do you say to a coworker when their attitude is just terrible?". Reply to Javier. Consider this example: Everyone at Emphasis took great pride in keeping their desks neat. I'm all for a certain flexibility and adaptive ease with regard to language and how we use it. Don't do something because it's easy and everyone else is doing it. Synonyms for not singular include plural, multiple, dual, manifold, many, morefold, not alone, numerous, several and multitudinous. Overall, the rise of singular “they” seems irreversible, as is often the case with linguistic transformations. Some have tried to argue that “they” is not grammatically correct for a singular gender-neutral pronoun, but Merriam-Webster says that’s not true and hasn’t been for literal centuries. And it’s not the first time a plural pronoun has morphed into a singular; in the 17th century the second-person “you” — until then used exclusively as a plural — gradually sidelined the now-antiquated, singular “thou.” Friedl on August 17, 2011 9:38 am. Although "they" is gaining popularity as a gender-neutral pronoun for the transgender community, I am not about to start using it as a general replacement for singular pronouns. Business case writing Since everyone is technically singular (you say everyone is not everyone are), some folk would insist that the sentence is grammatically wrong. Some notable nonbinary people who ask to be called by "singular they" pronouns include writer Ivan E. Coyote, actor Jiz Lee, singer-songwriter Rae Spoon, rapper Raeen Roes, and singer Sam Smith. Use he or she. Some examples: examines the matter further, as inspired by grad student and blogger Freddie deBoer, who thinks we need to stop fighting the use of, for centuries without anyone complaining (and by many notable crafters of language, including Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Swift). deBoer writes. Use of the singular “they” is endorsed as part of APA Style because it is inclusive of all people and helps writers avoid making assumptions about gender. He adds that not only is the usage "very unlikely" to produce confusion, but also, it's ". We must stop this, stop it before it goes too far. They clearly forgot that singular you was a plural pronoun that had become singular as well. — ruled that it is perfectly legitimate to call singular things "they," as in in the following sentence: Peppering one's sentences with some hes and shes can be kind of nice, really, a way to assemble a collection of characters who are certainly more real and individualized than a collective they. That's when a writer or a speaker — a he or a she — is discussing someone who might be either a he or a she (it's unknown, or … The purported problem is that anyone, someone and nobody are singular, while they, their and them are plural, so the two parts of the sentence don’t agree. Despite what many language skeptics think, the use of they as a gender-neutral singular pronoun is no mistake; it … As for the issue at hand, I think singular they/their is ok. Since it’s Pride Month, we’d like to start by defining a few key terms in this discussion. Stop it now. But, I see absolutely no reason other than laziness to start subbing our, . But this is an example of a gate that's not worth defending anymore. Other alternatives bring their own problems – alternating she and he is confusing and distracting, while he or she and s/he are ungainly and, as Fowler’s points out of the latter, unpronounceable. That's completely fine, even necessary, and the usage is quite valuable. Examples of singular they can be traced back to Middle English. Singular “they” is a valid, grammatically correct pronoun to use for non-binary individuals who want to be called that. Singular 'They' (Are) This is natural to native English speakers with older uses of singular they: If someone calls, tell them I’ll be back soon. Don't use it at all. The singular, gender nonspecific “they” has been common in English as long as people have spoken English, but since the 18th century, grammar stylists have discouraged it … The form of the verb "are" ("They are") might be plural, but in the context of a singular "they" the verb would have singular meaning, too. Every time I see a singular they, my inner grammatical spirit aches. Since gender is a social construction, it is possib… The message that something should be easy, that we all understand anyway, that it doesn't really matter and we should give up the fight may be the most galling part of this argument, though. (In fact, it’s wrong because it’s a flagrant lie.) Perhaps eventually "themself" wll be accepted as the singular reflexive of "they", but for now the standard form is "themselves" even when the referent is singular. *Note: I'm not ranting against use of they as a preferred gender pronoun, but instead, in (the more frequent) cases in which it's simply the easy way out, and, I think, indicative of sloppy writing. Use. But what then do you deduce? That’s the problem with using the masculine third-person singular pronouns he, him and his to stand in. Bid and tender writing Language is capable of evolving, and if we use “they” as a singular pronoun, it is a singular pronoun. Chuck Hustmyre on August 17, 2011 9:44 am “They” is plural. Yet every week, I get emails from people who sign off like this: ‘Kind Regards’. We must stop this, stop it before it goes too far. But why must we accept, as a singular? It's everywhere, proliferating like fruit flies 'round a bowl of rotting bananas, bad writing surrounding bad writing. Once there was singular thou and plural you. We also run open writing-skills courses, which are suitable for individuals as well as organisations. Sure, when using unfamiliar pronouns, you may slip up and misgender someone, but that is easily remedied with an apology and the conscious decision to do better. At its meeting in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 7, the American Dialect Society voted to make the 600-year-old pronoun "they" their word of the year for 2015. Report writing The singular they is the use of this pronoun as a gender-neutral singular rather than as a plural pronoun. Writing to customers It’s worth noting, too, that we happily use you as both singular and plural. I have no issue with their used in its proper place, as a plural pronoun. But people still write beautiful prose, and we will get comfortable with singular "they," much as, centuries ago, people adapted to singular "you" as "thee" fell out of use. But if you’re willing to stick to your guns (good on you) and are called upon to defend your choice, you could always reel off this article. Here are three gender-related terms that you should know:Gender: A set of cultural identities, expressions, and roles—traditionally categorized as feminine or masculine—that are assigned to people based on the interpretation of their bodies, and more specifically, their sexual and reproductive anatomy. It’s pretty simple. That's not to say that you shouldn't understand what the "rule" is, if only to be able to satisfy those gatekeepers that police it. Then join over 15,000 professionals who regularly receive our expert writing and communications advice straight to their inboxes. And she keeps office repartee at a suitably literary level. The other is that singular they is being used by individuals — who might identify as transgender, non-binary, agender, intersex or even cisgender — who … Even better, get rid of the they altogether. Discover has an excellent short history of the old and venerable use of "they", in English, to refer to a single person. Use of singular they is often seen as a relatively recent habit – a reaction to the rise of feminism in the 1970s and 80s. Pluralize throughout, if you must, for consistency: "If PEOPLE ARE concerned about their mental health, they should seek professional help.". Being one of that determined minority, I disagree. Writing for the web (Don't use it in your resume, don't use it in your grade school application.) It’s the word we use for sentences like Everyone loves their mother. In the eighteenth century, grammarians began warning that singular they was an error because a plural pronoun can’t take a singular antecedent. I say, use anything instead. OTOH, the singular reflexive of "you" is "yourself". No women work at Emphasis? Mind you, using only she is no less problematic (or, really, less sexist). Maybe in College, but not in real world were people wake up early to get to job. examines the matter further, as inspired by grad student and blogger Freddie deBoer, who thinks we need to stop fighting the use of their as a singular pronoun. Wikipedia ‘Gender Neutral Pronouns” says: “This usage of the word “they” is often thus called the singular “they”. This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire. Fans of doing so like to say that here he is generic and clearly denotes a person of either sex, but does anyone really read it that way? Singular they has become the pronoun of choice to replace he and she in cases where the gender of the antecedent—the word the pronoun refers to—is unknown, irrelevant, or nonbinary, or where gender needs to be concealed. For example: Each student should get their supplies ready for class. You are … – rjpond Oct 11 '17 at 20:47 I say no. So there is, to quote Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage, ‘notional agreement’. Having researched and written dozens of articles for the Emphasis blog, she now knows more about the intricacies of effective professional writing than she ever thought possible. Better business letters And there’s one popular choice. Sometimes you shouldn’t be using email at all. Want to get your point across, achieve your goals and stand out among your colleagues? Still, I can’t shake avoiding its use. For most work emails, it’s hard to go wrong with this. The singular pronoun they can be found in formal or official texts. Since when was writing or creating art with words (if you're being high-minded) supposed to be convenient? We all know what is intended in such a statement, to the point that most of us don't even notice it in spoken conversation. What is ‘singular they‘? The Pronoun “They” is Always Plural. As the first example showed, they, their and them sit very naturally with indefinite pronouns such as everyone. The English language does not have a gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun, but in recent years they has gained considerable traction in this role. Using "their" for singular antecedents is one that I think people need to just give up on. takes it from there, explaining that they was used as a singular pronoun for centuries without anyone complaining (and by many notable crafters of language, including Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Swift). If we don't know the specifics, we should try to find them out, or use one of those handy words —, used in its proper place, as a plural pronoun. When French vous or German Sie started to be used for singular entities [ignoring the anachronism inherent in that statement], they didn’t take over singular agreement—they remain plural. Generic Use They is also used “as a generic third-person singular pronoun to refer to a person whose gender is unknown or irrelevant to the context,” as the seventh edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association attests (120). Every single word we speak today was once new and never-before-used. Break the rules if you must, for a purpose, to make an impact. Though singular 'they' is old, 'they' as a nonbinary pronoun is new—and useful Update: This sense was added in September 2019 One common bugbear of … This pronoun as a singular pronoun they can be specific school application. ), to Merriam-Webster. Our expert writing and communications advice straight to their inboxes people, you will know What feels. Have an article on the Economist 's Grammar blog, R.L.G confusion, it.. ) are concerned about their mental health should seek professional help. `` their '' for singular antecedents one... 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