A Campaign for They

Here's the deal:  We need a gender-neutral third person pronoun.  I am tired of all the awkward constructions I have to concoct to use his or her in a grammatically correct and gender neutral fashion. 

I fully support the use of "they" and "their" as singular third-person pronouns, as in "Each person should bring their pencil" rather than "Each person should bring his or her pencil."  Unfortunately, this is not correct grammar today, so I just spent a few hours purging they's and their's from a draft novel.  However, English is a language that has always been open-source and bottom-up (in contrast to French).  Usages such as this tend to work their way into the language, as dictionary writers for the English language have generally considered themselves catalogers of the English-that-is rather than dictators of the English-that-should-be  (the book the Professor and the Madman is highly recommended).

XKCD took on this topic a while back


  1. dearieme:

    "We need a gender-neutral third person pronoun": assuming that you mean sex-neutral, we had one until a few years ago. It was he/him/his. Those pronouns did not necessarily refer to the male sex. Then politicised women - whether from ignorance or deceit - declared that they did. I blame you Americans myself.

  2. happyjuggler0:

    I'm sorry to hear that you purged they/their from your novel. What I would've done is simply have a note in the beginning of your book stating what your post just stated, and simply used they/their instead of bowing to the grammar nazis.

  3. Jens:

    Ummmm....singular "they" might not be accepted by ALL Strunk&White nazis, but it is UNQUESTIONABLY grammatical.

    As it says on the Language Log, under

    "Singular they": God said it, I believe it, that settles it

    Some examples given from the King James version of the Bible:

    Matt. 18:35: So likewise shall my heauenly Father doe also vnto you, if yee from your hearts forgiue not euery one his brother their trespasses.
    Phl. 2:3: Let nothing bee done through strife, or vaine glory, but in lowlinesse of minde let each esteeme other better then themselues.
    Numbers 2:34: And the children of Israel did according to all that the LORD commanded Moses: so they pitched by their standards, and so they set forward, every one after their families, according to the house of their fathers.
    Numbers 15:12: According to the number that yee shall prepare, so shall yee doe to euery one, according to their number.
    2 Kings 14:12: And Iudah was put to the worse before Israel, and they fled euery man to their tents.

  4. Chris Fritz:

    Ha, the next thing you'll be asking for is for "you" to be usable as an informal singular. Like that would ever happen!

  5. Jim Collins:

    We already have one. "It" works quite nicely. Everyone should bring it's pencil to the test.

  6. dearieme:

    You've got a feral apostrophe there, Jim.