1. notleia says:

    Singular “they” has existed since Jane Austen and/or Shakespeare. The only reason it isn’t considered grammatically correct is because back in Ye Olde Day they mushed grammatical rules for Latin onto English to make it seem more legit. That’s also why you supposedly can’t begin a sentence with a preposition (but we do all the time).
    Singular “they” is the simplest and also already integrated into the common lexicon. I think it wins by default.

    • The notion of not starting a sentence with a conjunction is not a grammar rule. It’s something fourth grade teachers introduce to help students avoid fragments in place of sentences.

      Whenever grammarians got a hold of English, they determined that agreement in number was the governing factor. If we want to change it today, we can. There’s nothing sacred about grammar.


  2. Kristin Janz says:

    According to the Wikipedia article on “singular they”, it’s been used since the 14th century, and there are no recorded complaints about it being ungrammatical before the 18th century.

    If anyone has a copy of the King James Bible, I encourage them to look up Philippians 2:3!

  3. Fun article, Shannon. Beyond interesting to entertaining!


  4. My brother, who does a lot of academic writing, alternates pronouns between “he” and “she” when referring to hypothetical people. It works quite well, but I personally find “they” and “their” to be less distracting overall.

  5. I’m in favor of using “they” if we’ve got to replace the non-specific ‘he’. But if we don’t…

  6. Kathy Eavenson says:

    What frustrates me? When an author used the ‘singular they’ in a sentence or paragraph where a female is talking/thinking/being discussed or referred to. [oops! Grammatical error: do not end a sentence with a preposition. What, are you German or something?? .?] I have more comments in many of my Kindle books because of that kind of thing!! Gotta take out my frustrations somewhere.

  7. Autumn Grayson says:

    I approach this differently depending on what I am writing. I try not to use singular ‘they’ because there are times when it just sounds weird, like I’m suddenly jumping from singular to plural wording in the same sentence. I hate specifying ‘he or she’ every time because it is extra typing and sounds clunky, and I really don’t feel like people should be growling at me if I decide to only use one pronoun in a sentence. In instances where I am, say, writing an essay and making a lot of general, theoretical examples, I may alternate between pronouns. In one example, for instance, I might use singular female pronouns, then in the next example I might use singular male ones.

    Usually, though, I dodge the issue altogether by making my words general and plural. So instead of saying something like ‘When a person writes, it is best that he…’ I will instead say something like ‘When people write, it is best that they…’ This keeps the political correctness out, while being inclusive and in many cases more concise. I find that consistently making most of my writing plural like this makes it easier to keep grammar consistent and correct without offending anyone.

    When it comes down to pronouns and characters, I write them based off culture, upbringing, personality, etc. I have some characters of species that naturally have no sex and gender at all, and many of them really don’t care what pronouns others assign to them because they don’t live in a society that ever argued about pronouns. A few of them will care, but usually only because they got used to the pronoun their close friends always called them, or if they can tell someone is trying to annoy them somehow.

    How such characters think of themselves would also depend on their personality and life experiences, so I try to write that realistically, instead of PCish or only based off a single social convention in that world. I have some genderless chars that grew up being called ‘he’ for as long as they remember, so even though they don’t truly see themselves as either gender, genderless chars in that situation would probably say ‘he’ if asked what pronoun they prefer, yet they probably wouldn’t get angry at being called a she, either.

    In general, if people want to experiment with different types of pronouns or use ‘they’ instead, I generally don’t care as long as they don’t try to force/manipulate/get angry at people for not knowing/using those conventions all the time.

What do you think?