Gender-neutral third person singular pronouns: December 2005: Everybody - singular or plural?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by gewe, Dec 15, 2005.

  1. gewe New Member


    I'm just asking myself what would be the correct pronoun in sentences like:
    Everybody should know if THEY/HE or SHE would like to ...

    Thank you for hints!
  2. marinax Senior Member

    buenos aires
    español (Argentina)
    that includes "everybody" also. if not, it seems as you are talking about someone outside that "everybody"...
  3. M56 Banned

    Britain. English.
    In general, any one of those can be used - though some speakers may reject the singular use of "they".


    Everybody must know his/her/their English grammar by Friday.
  4. DaleC Senior Member

    I use 'they' whenever possible for the sake of gender neutrality. In a minority of cases, it's clumsy or confusing, then I use 'he'.

    This is an ongoing change in grammar due to the women's liberation movement that started in the late 1960's. 30 years ago, using 'they' instead of 'he' called attention to itself. It's generally accepted now, I think, or very widely accepted, at least. It's safe for a learner of English to do it.

  5. M56 Banned

    Britain. English.
    And if truth of the matter be told:

    The use of the third-person plural pronoun they to refer to a singular noun or pronoun is attested as early as 1300, and many admired writers have used they, them, themselves, and their to refer to singular nouns such as one, a person, an individual, and each.
  6. DaleC Senior Member

    This is not even inconsistent with my reminiscence. This citation has no quantitative content.
  7. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    The only quantitative content consists of references to the dictionary's "Usage panel" whose members are opposed to this usage. Yes, there is mention of historical antecedent, but that is not the same as approval. The first words this dictionary offers on the topic is "Usage problem".

    op. cit.
  8. M56 Banned

    Britain. English.
    It wasn't meant to be anything but a bolstering of your very fine post. It shows that the use has been going on for a long time.
  9. M56 Banned

    Britain. English.
    And what are we "singular they" users to do with that information?
  10. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    When an indefinite pronoun is the subject of a verb, it is usually singluar, but it sometimes carries a plural meaning {everyone understood the rules, but they ignored them} {Nobody could recount the story; they hadn't been listening}.
  11. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Assuming you read the entire entry, to which you posted a link, you note that there is a widening gulf between what "professional grammarians" suggest, and the way the language is used by many speakers. You note yet another instance in which prescriptive and proscriptive grammars are ignored as the language evolves.

    I am another of the "singular they" users, at least in speaking. I try to avoid it in formal writing, but don't worry much about it in general. If it helps clarity to use it, I do so, and don't loose any sleep over it.

    Invoking the "it's been around since 1300" argument doesn't make it right or wrong, any more than the collective opinion of rule enforcers does.
    The day will come, if it's not already here, when 'wanna' will be accepted as formally correct.
  12. M56 Banned

    Britain. English.
    I'm sure it doesn't, but that was not my intention. It was to point out that the use is much older than some people think.
  13. SoLaTiDoberman Senior Member


    if I re-write it as "I know someone, who knows someone. They know an elf.",
    do you usually think that the "they" refers to the both of the first someone and the second someone?

    Or do you usually think that the "they" is the third-person-singular pronoun referring to only the second someone?

    Or do you think the both possibilities?

    Thank you!
  14. DonnyB

    DonnyB Senior Member

    Coventry, UK
    English UK Southern Standard English
    I would take they to mean both "someone"s.
  15. SoLaTiDoberman Senior Member

    Okay, I got it. Thanks!

    In that case, I had better re-writ it as
    "I know someone, who knows someone. And lo and behold, that person knows an elf." or something.:)

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