Singular 'they', Gender Neutral Pronoun

Gender neutral pronoun, singular 'they'

Singular "they" is a gender-neutral third-person pronoun and its derivative forms (them, their, theirs, themselves) are commonly used when the gender of the person being referred to is unknown, unspecified, or outside the traditional gender binary. This practice, dating back to the 14th century, has become widely accepted in modern English, particularly as a move toward more inclusive and gender-neutral language gained traction. Despite criticism from prescriptive commentators in the 18th century, the use of singular "they" has persisted and has increasingly been recognized in both everyday and formal contexts.

In the early 21st century, the use of singular "they" expanded to include known individuals who don't exclusively identify as male or female, further contributing to its recognition and acceptance. The American Dialect Society and Merriam-Webster named "they" as the Word of the Year in 2015 and 2019, respectively, highlighting its linguistic and cultural significance. By 2020, most style guides formally accepted the singular "they" as a legitimate and inclusive personal pronoun, marking a shift in language conventions towards greater sensitivity to gender diversity.


Somebody left their phone on the table. I wonder if they'll come back for it.

The student forgot their backpack in the classroom. Can you remind them to pick it up after class?

My coworker mentioned that they're taking a vacation next week.

When a friend calls, please tell them I'll call them back as soon as I can.

If anyone needs help, they can reach out to the support team.

I met someone at the party, but I forgot to ask for their name.

The patient should be informed about their treatment options before making a decision.

Singular "they" is commonly used with pronoun antecedents such as someone, anybody, or everybody, as well as interrogative pronouns like who. For instance, sentences like "If anyone tells you that America's best days are behind her, then they're looking the wrong way" and "Who thinks they can solve the problem?" exemplify the inclusive use of singular "they" when the gender of the individual is unspecified. Additionally, examples with nobody or no one, such as "No one put their hand up" and "No one felt they had been misled," demonstrate the application of singular "they" in instances where the antecedent is singular.

Furthermore, the notional plurality of pronouns like everybody, everyone, and nobody may be kept in mind, acknowledging their implied plurality despite being used with a singular verb. Examples like "Everyone loves their parents" and "Nobody was late, were they?" showcase this nuanced usage. Additionally, when referring to a collective or group without implying pairwise relationships, plural they is employed, as seen in sentences like "At first everyone in the room was singing; then they began to laugh."

The use of singular "they" extends to cases with generic nouns as antecedents, including person, student, or patient. For instance, sentences like "A starting point would be to give more support to the company secretary. They are, or should be, privy to the confidential deliberations and secrets of the board and the company" exemplify the generic use of singular "they." Moreover, it is noted that even when the sex of the known person is identified, singular "they" may be used to ignore or conceal the gender, as in "I had a friend in Paris, and they had to go to hospital for a month."

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