The singular "they"


I just read this fascinating article:

Grammarians, whadaya think? Everyone is entitled to, ahem, their own opinion but I agree with the writer.

asked Jan 18 '13 at 05:57 Shawn Mooney Expert

3 answers


What this language needs is a good five cent third person singular non-gender specific pronoun. I can see the writer's point. Using 'he or she' is a burden, and rewriting an entire sentence to be able to use a plural 'they' is an onerous burden. I remember back in the '60s or '70s someone unsuccessfully tried to promote a group of TPNGS pronouns.

I would be happy to use a singular 'they', and judging from search results, it's becoming more accepted.

Of course, from searches, you can learn that an obscure band from 1972 with one song on the charts has a fan page declaring them to be the most influential musical geniuses of the 20th century.

link answered Jan 18 '13 at 12:45 Lewis Neidhardt Grammarly Fellow

I have long used the singular 'they' and had no idea that it was considered controversial, if not an outright error, in certain circles until last week when I read your reply to a question on here. By the way, what the heck is TPNGS? I found nothing on Google about that acronym. But I did find out some interesting stuff about you, if Google is telling me the truth that there is only one of you on the planet. :)

Shawn MooneyJan 18 '13 at 13:17

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I, for one, find the use of the singular "they" to grate on my ear. Without much difficulty, I have always found a more elegant way to employ gender-neutral langauge than resorting to the singular "they." As a result, my bias is to view the singular "they" as the mark of a lazy writer.


Garner's Modern American Usage (3rd edition, Oxford University Press, 2009) -- the American version of Fowler's addresses this issue at length (pages 739-42). Garner's makes the following recommendation:

"For the persuasive writer -- for whom credibility is all -- the writer's point of view matters less than the reader's Thus, if one is writing for an unknown or a broad readership, the only course that does not risk damaging one's credibility is to write around the problem. For this purpose, every writer ought to have available a repertoire of methods to avoid the general mawsculine pronoun. No single method is sufficient."

Garner's follows this recommendation with five grammatically acceptable methods to avoid the generic masculine pronoun and the singular "they." Garner's also notes:

"Speakers of AmE resist this development [use of the singular "they"] more than speakers of BrE, in which the indeterminate they is already more or less standard. Although it sets many literate American's teeth on edge is an unfortunate obstackle to what promises to be the ultimate solution to the problem."

I hope this helps.

link answered Jan 19 '13 at 06:26 Jeff Pribyl Grammarly Fellow

Hey Jeff, thanks for the feedback. If it isn't too much trouble, can you summarize "the five grammatically-acceptable methods to avoid [for avoiding] the generic masculine pronoun and the singular 'they'"? I am certainly willing to be converted...

Shawn MooneyJan 21 '13 at 15:58

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Thank you guys, let me put it in a sentence then for me to be more clear:


'This certificate is awarded to Rachel Xman for their wonderful contribution in the workplace'


yes or not

link comment answered Jan 24 '13 at 12:23 sarah New member

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