I just read that the Washington Post is officially accepting the singular "they" as a gender-neutral pronoun, in addition to several other updates they are making to their style guide. The singular "they" will be used to refer to people who identify as gender-neutral (or, presumably, to anyone else who requests it).
The writer in me has resisted a singular "they" for a long time. But I've met SO many people who find "ze" awkward, including people who adopt it themselves. And it seems clear that we desperately need a gender-neutral pronoun, since (as I also touched on in my last post), not everyone wants to use "he or she."
As far as I'm concerned, "they" is a fine alternative. Yeah, I was taught in elementary school that "they" could never be singular. But there were numerous things I was taught in elementary school that I no longer believe. And more importantly, what's the point of language if it can't adjust to fit our needs?
I predict that it's only a matter of time before "they" pervades other gender-inspecific situations, too. What I mean is, if you're referring to a person in the abstract, and the gender of the person is unknown, you're supposed to write "he or she." As in: "When you go to a doctor, he or she takes your blood pressure." The word "they" has long been considered incorrect as a substitute for "he or she" in that instance. But saying "he or she" is a little awkward. "They" is what a lot of us would use in informal conversation anyway. (And personally, I like "they" because not everyone identifies as a "he" or a "she," so "they" is all-encompassing.)
One question, though: if we're using "they" as singular, it seems like we should keep the rest of the sentence singular, as in, "they takes your blood pressure." To my ear, that sounds strange; it makes more sense if the rest of the sentence is plural ("they take your blood pressure"). So we're not really using "they" as singular, then, are we? Instead, we are just making the rest of the sentence plural to go along with what we're used to hearing after the pronoun "they?"
Anyhow, I'm no linguist. Others have thought more deeply about this problem than I have. But if anyone in your life is still refusing to convert, just give him, her, or them a chance; I'm willing to wager that they'll come around eventually. ;)
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