1. heal41hp
    Offline

    heal41hp Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2013
    Messages:
    225
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Oklahoma, USA

    Singular They?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by heal41hp, Jun 7, 2013.

    I know there's some controversy over the acceptability of singular they so I'd like to get some opinions on it and whether it should be used. Though it's not the same as writing prose, I've been marked off on scholarly essays for using it in lieu of "he or she" and other such things.
     
  2. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,893
    Location:
    Boston
    According to the Chicago Manual of Style, using "they" is incorrect, but I feel like it's only a matter of time before it becomes accepted usage. I use "he" just because I was taught to use either that or "she" in school. For stuff like emails or forum posts, using "they" is fine because most likely no one is going to care, but stick to the rules in grammar/language guides for official essays and such.
     
  3. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    We had a recent thread that covered this. A few people use it anyway and some of us go a little more out of our way to restructure the sentence so that it uses gender neutral language without a plural sub for a singular pronoun.

    I'll found it.

    He or she. Him or her. S/he. They. Arrgh.
     
  4. heal41hp
    Offline

    heal41hp Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2013
    Messages:
    225
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Oklahoma, USA
    I understand that regarding essays and such but what about in fiction prose? I fear I may have sabotaged myself in my zombie-like state of sleep deprivation by mentioning the essay thing...

    GingerCoffee, I await your link with bated breath!
     
  5. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,893
    Location:
    Boston
    I wouldn't mind coming across a singular they in fiction, but that's just one reader's opinion. Besides, unless you intend to self-publish, editors are the ones you need to win over. When in doubt, I say go with correct usage (he or she).
     
  6. heal41hp
    Offline

    heal41hp Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2013
    Messages:
    225
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Oklahoma, USA
    As an aspiring editor and a lover of linguistics, I can't help but press the issue a little. I found an article stating this interesting bit:

    To me it suggests singular they is perfectly fine. Of course, just going by "that's how it used to be" isn't a good excuse for anything. I might as well just start calling my beef cow again if I'm going to follow that rule. On the other hand, though, the article also says further down that usage is becoming ever more popular and it's just a matter of time before it's fully accepted (again). I don't think that changes peoples' perceptions of its usage, though.

    I've lost myself at this point, though. I'm quite tired. Hopefully this makes sense to those that aren't me. :D
     
  7. ProsonicLive
    Offline

    ProsonicLive Senior Member

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2013
    Messages:
    119
    Likes Received:
    6
    Usually I use it when a person's gender AND identity are unknown and becuase the average person would not keep using "he/she" (both) while in a sentence

    ""we do not know who did this, but they will pay"
    vs. "We do not know who did this but he or she will pay".

    it also leaves no room for transgenders or other entities that do not normally fall under he or she.
     
  8. hummingbird
    Offline

    hummingbird Member

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2013
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    5
    Location:
    Rocky Mountains
    I noticed the other day that Facebook uses it. I presume it's if the gender is not set in that person's profile. I saw a status update that was:
    <Person> added <City>, <State> as their hometown.

    Unfortunately, if Facebook is doing it a lot of people will probably pick up the habit.
     
  9. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Face it - as long as there is no suitable gender neutral singular personal pronoun, you will see this kind of compromise.

    There are far worse grammatical sins committed daily.
     
  10. heal41hp
    Offline

    heal41hp Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2013
    Messages:
    225
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Oklahoma, USA
    This is also much easier on programming than getting it to query and reference a user's designated sex. Seems like a silly shortcut for such a huge website to take, though, so I can't help but assume I'm missing something. Can you actually not specify sex on Facebook?

    Cogito: Whether it's a compromise or not due to a lexical gap in English, would you consider it poor form in prose? Would you judge an author/editor/publisher negatively for using it in a book?
     
  11. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Depends on how obtrusive it is. In ordinary circumstances?

    I think most people here consider me a bit of a hardass with respect to grammar, but I wouldn't generally waste the effort to point this one out when it is used generically. If referring to a singular person of known gender, I would point it out.

    Example: If the reference were to someone who is pregnant, then 'she' should be used even if the reference is generic.
     
  12. heal41hp
    Offline

    heal41hp Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2013
    Messages:
    225
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Oklahoma, USA
    I am all the more thrilled to get the opinion of a grammar hardass. I agree with you completely on this one. :)
     
  13. CDRW
    Offline

    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    Messages:
    1,532
    Likes Received:
    27
    It's in general usage, and has been for a long time. I have a hard time thinking of situations where usage of singular they would be unclear. I think that rule is about as meaningful as the one forbidding split infinitives. In other words not at all.
     
  14. heal41hp
    Offline

    heal41hp Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2013
    Messages:
    225
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Oklahoma, USA
    I always get a chuckle when Word cries over those...

    Thanks for weighing in. :) I appreciate it.
     
  15. Drunkugly
    Offline

    Drunkugly Member

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2013
    Messages:
    19
    Likes Received:
    0
    I sometimes use it if I feel there are too many he/she in a sentence. It annoys me when I see the same word being used repeatedly. So I try to restructure the sentence first, and if that fails, I use they. How about a sentence that is referring to two he's? Sometimes it's easier to define which part of the sentence refers to which pronoun if you use they for one. I'm sure there's a grammatically correct way to do this, but sometimes that comes across sounding old fashioned. Like avoiding ending a sentence with on, at, or with.
     

Share This Page