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"They" as a singular pronoun

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When editing, I often come across pieces where the word "they" has been used as a singular pronoun. Most of us have been taught that this is a big no-no, but the tide seems to be shifting a bit.

 

I recently came across an article by "Grammar Girl" on this topic, and I thought it was rather interesting. Take a peek and let me know what you think!

 

Generic Singular Pronouns

 

So, have you come up with any creative ways to deal with those tricky sentences where "he or she" and "his or her" sound awkward? Here are a few examples that I've adapted from a document I recently edited. Note that the sentences can't be pluralized because they refer to one individual—the principal. Also, keep in mind that the document was strewn with sentences like these.

 

* The principal is responsible for your success because he or she will be paying for your training, usually out of his or her budget.

 

* The principal wants to hire someone who will make him or her look good to his or her boss.

 

Would you use "they" and "their" in these types of sentences? Why or why not?

 

I'm looking forward to a lively debate! :whistlin:

 

 

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Angela,

 

A generic singular pronoun like "they" would make things SO much easier for those of us who proofread conversational writing.

 

Rewriting, when it is possible, takes time and may not be faithful to the original.

 

A disclaimer like "the principal, henceforth known as she" works even as it makes your audience take sides (you can just hear those mental conversations: "Why say she?" or "Use s/he and don't be sexist!" or, my favorite, "That's dumb!") and defeats the purpose of conversational, draw-your-reader-in writing.

 

Do let us know what you discover.

Debbie Lynn

 

 

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I've come across some additional information on this topic that I thought I'd share. There are varying opinions, of course, but I've been surprised how much support there is for using "they" as a singular pronoun. Check out these links when you have time!

 

AskOxford.com

 

Merriam-Webster

 

Random House - Maven's Word of the Day

 

World Wide Words

 

Common Errors in English

 

Canberra Society of Editors

 

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Angela,

 

I notice this quite a bit. It think as a society we have become tired of "he or she" so we just say say or write "they". I even hear it in newscasts.

 

I've also seen "s/he" used for "he or she" so I guess many writers are struggling with the overall awkwardness of having to constantly use "he or she" in a piece.

 

Just my thoughts.

 

Leisa Good

Edited by Leisa

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The first thing that popped into my head when reading your post, Angela was, "it's just the world getting lazier." Take a look at our dictionary, shortened "texting words" are beginning to show up - lol. After reading the link that was posted with your question, I do think it is highly improper to use "they" in place of a singular pronoun. I believe that the singular antecedent should be referred to as "he or she". It is clumsy, but correct in my opinion. I don't believe it to be sexist to use both pronouns in this case, it is just being respectful to the reader.

 

Thanks for making me think this morning.

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Angela, in formal writing I use he or she or him or her. I would have written your two example sentences exactly as you did.

 

I don't like the idea of using "they" just because I feel using "he or she" is clumsy. But I know it's becoming common and I'll just have to get over it.

 

I didn't look at all the links you posted, so perhaps this has already been mentioned in one of those. Something else I have seen done, and which I have used when appropriate, is to alternate between he and she.

 

In my opinion, this decision also depends on your audience. If it's a group that commonly uses "they" to replace "he or she" then it's not about what I prefer to use at all. It's about speaking to the reader in his or her own language. :-)

 

 

 

 

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, ladies! You've all made some great points and provided lots of excellent suggestions.

 

I often edit informal training guides (e-books), so this issue comes up regularly because of the numerous scenarios and examples that are provided in such texts. My first choice is to pluralize whenever possible. When this isn't appropriate, I like to alternate between "he" and "she" as Denise mentioned. This works best in long pieces because there are more opportunities to switch back and forth. Still, there are many times when "none of the above" seems appropriate!

 

I honestly think it's just a matter of time until it becomes acceptable to use "they" as a singular pronoun, at least in informal writing. For now, I think I'll continue sitting on the fence! :unsure:

 

Anyone else want to chime in?

 

Angela

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I honestly think it's just a matter of time until it becomes acceptable to use "they" as a singular pronoun, at least in informal writing.

 

Angela, I agree with you. I think it will be like our current usage of "who" and "whom" - the average reader doesn't notice when you don't use "whom" to replace the direct object, but everyone notices when you do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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