OtherGround Forums "They" is now singular.

26 days ago
10/1/02
Posts: 8982
Words We're Watching

Singular 'They'

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 the grammatical nitpicker is the singular they. For those who haven’t kept up, the complaint is this: the use of they as a gender-neutral pronoun (as in, “Ask each of the students what they want for lunch.”) is ungrammatical because they is a plural pronoun.

 

 
 
Edited: 26 days ago
10/1/02
Posts: 8983
In an 1881 letter, Emily Dickinson wrote "Almost anyone under the circumstances would have doubted if [the letter] were theirs, or indeed if they were themself." People have used singular 'they' to describe someone whose gender is unknown for a long time, but the nonbinary use of 'they' is relatively new.
 
Much has been written on they, and we aren’t going to attempt to cover it here. We will note that they has been in consistent use as a singular pronoun since the late 1300s; that the development of singular they mirrors the development of the singular you from the plural you, yet we don’t complain that singular you is ungrammatical; and that regardless of what detractors say, nearly everyone uses the singular they in casual conversation and often in formal writing.
 
They is taking on a new use, however: as a pronoun of choice for someone who doesn’t identify as either male or female. This is a different use than the traditional singular they, which is used to refer to a person whose gender isn’t known or isn’t important in the context, as in the example above. The new use of they is direct, and it is for a person whose gender is known, but who does not identify as male or female. If I were introducing a friend who preferred to use the pronoun they, I would say, “This is my friend, Jay. I met them at work.”
 
If you’re someone who has a binary gender (that is, who identifies as male or female) and you’ve never encountered the nonbinary they before, it may feel a little weird. Or you may think it’s unnecessary. You may be confused by all the new terminology (though there’s help out there for you). Yet we’ve been searching for a nonbinary pronoun for quite a while now.
 
There have always been people who didn’t conform to an expected gender expression, or who seemed to be neither male nor female. But we’ve struggled to find the right language to describe these people—and in particular, the right pronouns. In the 17th century, English laws concerning inheritance sometimes referred to people who didn’t fit a gender binary using the pronoun it, which, while dehumanizing, was conceived of as being the most grammatically fit answer to gendered pronouns around then. Adopting the already-singular they is vastly preferable. It’s not quite as newfangled as it seems: we have evidence in our files of the nonbinary they dating back to 1950, and it’s likely that there are earlier uses of the nonbinary pronoun they out there.
 
Words We're Watching talks about words we are increasingly seeing in use but that have not yet met our criteria for entry.
 
Edited: 26 days ago
12/26/05
Posts: 43196

No

 

"They" as been used to repair broken and awkward sentences.

 

They is not being used in the singular...they is being forced int the vernacular as a singular pronoun by a bunch of wackjob fuckwits obsessed with inflicting their will upon the general culture.

26 days ago
10/1/02
Posts: 8984

So, more accurately, "they" has always been used as a singular pronoun when the gender is unknown but now it is being used when the gender is "non binary". 

Hmm.

26 days ago
1/1/01
Posts: 35552
It, imo.
26 days ago
4/13/12
Posts: 28941
beatbum -

So, more accurately, "they" has always been used as a singular pronoun when the gender is unknown but now it is being used when the gender is "non binary". 

Hmm.

Yeah.  I dont see what the big deal is.  If insaw someone i wasnt sure of i would use they.  Now thats what they want to be called.  Ok.  Language changes over time.  Meanings are attached to words and new words appear every year.

26 days ago
4/13/12
Posts: 28942
Liyon - It, imo.

It are usually inanimate objects or unknown nonhuman genders.

Edited: 26 days ago
1/1/01
Posts: 35163
Yeah, language changes slowly OVER TIME, naturally, not as an edict from an ideology trying to control the way every one speaks.

That isn't about courtesy or even language, that is about control.

When people start changing the definitions of words, watch out. That is a classic ploy to manipulate and confuse. That's what the Communists did, it's what cults do; it's what Scientology does.

Human language is what he have to communicate and when people try to control that, it's never for the better. There is always an agenda.
26 days ago
9/26/10
Posts: 20453

i'll let the kids deal with this one however they feel comfortable. I will continue to use pronouns as i always have, while also continuing to avoid the kind of people who would ask to be addressed as they/them. 

i teach kindergarten, and i promise i will not be teaching my students they/them as singular. 

26 days ago
11/28/08
Posts: 21472

They has been used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun for hundreds on years, in nearly every dialect.

Edited: 26 days ago
11/28/08
Posts: 21473
ufc98newb -

i'll let the kids deal with this one however they feel comfortable. I will continue to use pronouns as i always have, while also continuing to avoid the kind of people who would ask to be addressed as they/them. 

i teach kindergarten, and i promise i will not be teaching my students they/them as singular. 

So, if a student asks you which pronoun to use for a person of an indeterminate gender, will you still tell them it is wrong and that they should instead use the more clumsy “he or she?”

26 days ago
3/10/16
Posts: 801
They eat da poopoo
26 days ago
4/19/09
Posts: 32724

lol monollingual stupidity. plenty of other languages dont even use he or she. Indonesian has no word for it, it always uses they. In the BUgis peoples of one islan,d they have 6 different words for gender. 

BReak open your normative prison

26 days ago
2/14/10
Posts: 11834

Acceptable: "A smart hiker will carry a good knife on their person."

Proper: "A smart hiker will carry a good knife on his or her person."

Fuck off: "Skye, a mentally ill chick with a dick, is going hiking, and should walk their gender-bending ass off a steep cliff."

26 days ago
1/1/01
Posts: 9645
Ghengiseanie - Indonesian has no word for it, it always uses they.


I wonder how Indonesians would feel if someone said they better change the way they use Indonesian pronouns or they'll lose their jobs.
26 days ago
2/14/10
Posts: 11835
anthonyMI -
ufc98newb -

i'll let the kids deal with this one however they feel comfortable. I will continue to use pronouns as i always have, while also continuing to avoid the kind of people who would ask to be addressed as they/them. 

i teach kindergarten, and i promise i will not be teaching my students they/them as singular. 

So, if a student asks you which pronoun to use for a person of an indeterminate gender, will you still tell them it is wrong and that they should instead use the more clumsy “he or she?”

If the subject is of indeterminate gender because of lack of identifying information, that's one thing. To pander to the alphabet fucks, however, is laughable. 

The passenger will wait for THEIR train on the platform. 

Lisa will wait for HER train on the platform. 

Tom parks HIS car at the train station. 

 A gender-confused person needs to get THEIR ass to a shrink ASAP, and stop trying to force the rest of us to normalize their condition. 

26 days ago
9/26/10
Posts: 20454
anthonyMI -
ufc98newb -

i'll let the kids deal with this one however they feel comfortable. I will continue to use pronouns as i always have, while also continuing to avoid the kind of people who would ask to be addressed as they/them. 

i teach kindergarten, and i promise i will not be teaching my students they/them as singular. 

So, if a student asks you which pronoun to use for a person of an indeterminate gender, will you still tell them it is wrong and that they should instead use the more clumsy “he or she?”

don't worry, anthony. 5 year olds do not talk like that. 

26 days ago
1/1/01
Posts: 92864

26 days ago
12/17/06
Posts: 78080

You/it/that

26 days ago
1/1/01
Posts: 96723

"They want to go to lunch."

"Ok, how many are going?"  

"Just they." 

"What?" 

26 days ago
4/11/14
Posts: 9376

They is pathetic.

26 days ago
7/31/09
Posts: 19239

I prefer to use "it."

26 days ago
3/18/02
Posts: 88385

26 days ago
5/18/15
Posts: 2481

Finally an answer to the age old question:

”WHAT THE HELL IS EVEN THAT?!?!”

26 days ago
7/13/09
Posts: 22370

First they take the rainbow now this.