Archive for September, 2011

Thoughts on “Singular They”

Monday, September 12th, 2011

English lacks pronouns for the third person singular common gender. The plural forms are commonly used as singular for want of anything better, but this seems to be frowned on by The Authorities. And although there have been various suggestions for sets of common-gender pronouns, none of them have really caught on — despite there being entire science-fiction anthologies without a “he” or “she” in sight.

I personally think we should stop acting as though there is anything wrong with using “they” in the singular. After all, outside certain dialects, English no longer makes any distinction between singular and plural in the second person, and the distinction is often blurred in the first person (traditionally, the reigning monarch has always referred to themself as “We”; and this is also often used as a literary device to indicate that the author is not alone in expressing a particular opinion. There are also instances when multiple authors have referred to themselves as “I”.)

So, for the sake of consistency and to avoid introducing new words into the language, I propose that the “overloading” of common-gender third person plural pronouns as singular pronouns be made official.

  • Nominative: They
  • Accusative: Them
  • Genitive: Their
  • Reflexive: Themself (only obvious singular form)

We already use such constructions informally all the time. So why not just make them formal?