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They instead of he/she Options
Sophia Alexandrova
Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2018 1:42:05 AM

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Joined: 6/12/2016
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Neurons: 14,188
Location: Moscow, Moscow, Russia
Hello!

I would be grateful if you could cast light on the usage of "they" when referring to a singular person. For example, "Living in a dog-eat-dog environment a person has to be assertive if they want to succeed". I have read many articles in which authors claim that it is possible to substitute a singular pronoun with a plural one.

Thanks in advance!
thar
Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2018 2:37:36 AM

Rank: Advanced Member

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Short answer - yes, you can use 'they' to refer to a singular person, without specifying their gender. It keeps the normal verb forms - they are, etc.

Long answer - some people will tell you it's wrong, but they don't understand that the people who taught that were just in a phase of bad teaching. It is normal, standard English. Everybody uses it, and it has always been used.


Some explanation in this thread (and probably some others, but I don't know about them):

https://forum.thefreedictionary.com/postst181052_They-showed-their-passport-s--.aspx




Quote:
Some authors compare use of singular they to widespread use of singular you instead of thou.

I love this line. If anyone complains about someone using singular 'they' I would love to respond by asking how they can use singular 'you are', instead of 'þu art' Whistle
How did the Victorian grammarians let that one through? Think
Drag0nspeaker
Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2018 2:56:53 AM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 9/12/2011
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Location: Livingston, Scotland, United Kingdom
Hello Sophia Alexandrova!

I realise that this may sound strange, but in this sentence 'they' is not really a plural pronoun.

In modern English (mainly the last forty or fifty years, but it has been so for a lot longer than that sometimes) one does not use 'he/him' to speak of an unknown person (or person of undetermined gender). One uses "they+plural verb" as a singular form.

masculine .... feminine ...... undetermined ...... neuter
he ...................she ............. they ....................it
him .................her ..............them ...................it
his ..................hers..............their ...................its

It is not polite to call a person 'it', so if you don't know whether you mean a boy, girl, man or woman, "they" is the singular pronoun to use. It sometimes sounds odd, especially when a single sentence contains a singular noun and "they".
However, it is shorter and less clumsy than saying "he or she".

"What a lovely baby. How old is it?"
"What a lovely baby. How old are they?"

Most "native speakers" who grew up using this form would not feel it sounded strange - also (particularly in writing, when one has a bit more time to think about wording) native speakers would usually re-phrase the whole sentence.

"Living in a dog-eat-dog environment people have to be assertive if they want to succeed."
"What a lovely baby. How old?"


EDITED to add:

Hi thar.
Th'art right - we (up in t'North) say it properly.

Wyrd bið ful aræd - bull!
Audiendus
Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2018 7:53:40 AM
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Joined: 8/24/2011
Posts: 4,820
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Location: London, England, United Kingdom
What shall we do about the reflexive/emphatic form?

masculine .... feminine ...... undetermined ...... neuter
he ...................she ............. they ....................it
him .................her ..............them ...................it
his ..................hers..............their ...................its
himself.............herself...........themself?.............itself

Note that we say "yourself" despite the fact that "you" was originally a plural form.
Drag0nspeaker
Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2018 8:31:31 AM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 9/12/2011
Posts: 28,831
Neurons: 164,822
Location: Livingston, Scotland, United Kingdom

Yes, I suppose so.

It's singular - "Help yourself."
Plural - "Help yourselves."

"A student should help themself."
"Students should help themselves."

As long as a person measures their own worth by comparing themself with others, it will be easy to see themself as not up to the task of making any real improvement in their life. Chasing After the American Dream - Thomas D. Kerr - 1996
In each and every generation, a person is obliged to consider themself as though they themself had gone. . . An Introductory Grammar of Rabbinic Hebrew - 1999
'Suche people ben unnatural that woll not enforce themself for the sustentation of the comon wele and levir suffir themself to be lost with the comon wele thanne dispose themself to perile for the same.' (I think this is from a letter from King Edward the Fifth to Otes Gilbert, Esq. - or possibly a letter from Richard III)
Thus, the social categories to which the adolescent assigns themself may also point the interviewer toward necessary inquiries into these possible problem areas. Comprehensive Clinical Psychology: Assessment - Alan S. Bellack, ‎Michel Hersen - 1998

Wyrd bið ful aræd - bull!
Kirill Vorobyov
Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2018 8:49:58 AM

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Neurons: 2,117
Location: Moscow, Moscow, Russia
Whenever your friend is attacked help them.
Sophia Alexandrova
Posted: Friday, May 11, 2018 5:44:11 AM

Rank: Newbie

Joined: 6/12/2016
Posts: 41
Neurons: 14,188
Location: Moscow, Moscow, Russia
Quote:
Short answer - yes, you can use 'they' to refer to a singular person, without specifying their gender. It keeps the normal verb forms - they are, etc.

Long answer - some people will tell you it's wrong, but they don't understand that the people who taught that were just in a phase of bad teaching. It is normal, standard English. Everybody uses it, and it has always been used.


Some explanation in this thread (and probably some others, but I don't know about them):

https://forum.thefreedictionary.com/postst181052_They-showed-their-passport-s--.aspx




Quote:
Some authors compare use of singular they to widespread use of singular you instead of thou.

I love this line. If anyone complains about someone using singular 'they' I would love to respond by asking how they can use singular 'you are', instead of 'þu art' Whistle
How did the Victorian grammarians let that one through? Think


Thanks a lot Thar. The thing is that one of my teachers keeps on correcting every "they" in my works Eh?
Sophia Alexandrova
Posted: Friday, May 11, 2018 5:45:11 AM

Rank: Newbie

Joined: 6/12/2016
Posts: 41
Neurons: 14,188
Location: Moscow, Moscow, Russia
Drag0nspeaker wrote:

Yes, I suppose so.

It's singular - "Help yourself."
Plural - "Help yourselves."

"A student should help themself."
"Students should help themselves."

As long as a person measures their own worth by comparing themself with others, it will be easy to see themself as not up to the task of making any real improvement in their life. Chasing After the American Dream - Thomas D. Kerr - 1996
In each and every generation, a person is obliged to consider themself as though they themself had gone. . . An Introductory Grammar of Rabbinic Hebrew - 1999
'Suche people ben unnatural that woll not enforce themself for the sustentation of the comon wele and levir suffir themself to be lost with the comon wele thanne dispose themself to perile for the same.' (I think this is from a letter from King Edward the Fifth to Otes Gilbert, Esq. - or possibly a letter from Richard III)
Thus, the social categories to which the adolescent assigns themself may also point the interviewer toward necessary inquiries into these possible problem areas. Comprehensive Clinical Psychology: Assessment - Alan S. Bellack, ‎Michel Hersen - 1998


Thanks a lot!
thar
Posted: Friday, May 11, 2018 6:52:49 AM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 7/8/2010
Posts: 16,999
Neurons: 68,605
Sophia Alexandrova wrote:


Thanks a lot Thar. The thing is that one of my teachers keeps on correcting every "they" in my works Eh?



Ah, yes that is a problem. Some people were taught that it is wrong, so of course to them it is.

Depending on your relationship with your teacher you can either:

a) Gather some respectable evidence to convince them, and attempt to change their mind, or at least start a debate based on trustworthy evidence.
(I quoted wikipedia but I suggest you try with something more reliable!)

Or
b) shut up and write their way until you finish your studies and pass your exams! Whistle

But be aware that to native speakers (I can only speak for British English,but I see/hear no difference in versions from other regions such the US, Canada, Australia, NZ) it feels perfectly correct.
But like many points of writing and grammar, once you are working professionally you need to check with the organisation you work for, as to what they consider to be correct. Or specialisations such as language related to law and legal documents. The same with the curriculum for any exams you are taking.


See how useful it is? I don't know the gender of your teacher. I can't because it has no gendered case ending. Using 'him' would be sexist, insulting, and just simply wrong, if they are female.
And the same if I made an assumption they were female, and used 'she'.

Modern English does not use 'he' for an unknown gender, the way some other Western European languages do. And writing both ('he or she') or using a slash ('he/she', 'him/her', 'his/her') may work in written documents but is ridiculous in prose writing or spoken language.



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